Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel John 2:13-25

At first glance, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple appears to be a straightforward demonstration against the commercialization of the sacred precincts:

Jesus went up to the Temple as the privileged place of encounter with God. For Him, the Temple was the dwelling of His Father, a house of prayer, and He was angered that its outer court had become a place of commerce. He drove merchants out of it because of jealous love for His Father.

–Catechism paragraph 584.

Perhaps while transacting their business in the Temple precincts, the merchants failed to have a “sense of the sacred,” or “respect owed to the mystery of God Himself and to the whole sacred reality [His name] evokes” (2144).

Perhaps some had even fallen into the temptation of making money their god. If so, that is a sin of idolatry, which does not merely involve the false worshiping of pagan gods.

“Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God,” such as “power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc.,” and as a result, idolatry “remains a constant temptation to faith” (2113).

Yet the Lord’s action also has a much deeper significance: Jesus “identified Himself with the Temple by presenting Himself as God’s definitive dwelling-place among men” (586).

Soon, worship would no longer be centered around the Temple building, but rather upon the very Body of the Lord, the new Temple.

Benedict XVI develops this insight into the cleansing of the Temple in Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2. God is withdrawing from the Temple of stone, with its worldly trading, and inaugurating a new way of worship, through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ:

The rejection and crucifixion of Jesus means at the same time the end of this Temple. The era of the Temple is over. A new worship is being introduced, in a Temple not built by human hands. This Temple is His Body, the Risen One, who gathers the peoples and unites them in the sacrament of His Body and Blood.

–Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2, pp. 21-22

Thus Jesus has zeal for the Cross, what Benedict calls the “zeal of self-giving love,” that we are called to share.

Question for reflection: When have I been tempted to make a “god” out of something?


Love God Above All

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2052 through 2141:

  • The Ten Commandments are our roadmap to true freedom, as opposed to the bondage of sin; it is no accident that God revealed them after liberating the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to teach a new way of life for a free people.
  • Indeed, this context is vital to understanding the profound meaning of the Commandments: they were given during a “theophany,” or God’s manifestation to His people, and His forming an intimate bond, a “covenant,” with them.
  • The Commandments are a great gift because they describe what we must do to abide in this deep relationship with God; He loved us first, and we respond with love toward Him by keeping the Commandments; the first three regard our right behavior toward God, and the rest govern our relationships with our neighbor.
  • The First Commandment expresses this wholehearted relationship: “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before Me.”
  • We follow this commandment by adoring God, submitting to Him as the Lord of all, to Whom we owe everything; by daily conversing with Him in prayer, uniting our sacrifices with Christ’s perfect sacrifice; by keeping the promises we make to God; and by helping others to come to the fullness of worship in the Church.
  • Conversely, we sin against God when we prefer other things to Him, and treat them as gods; this is idolatry; our idols need not be the false gods of paganism, for we create modern idols all of the time – money, power, pleasure, sports, etc.
  • We sin against God’s love when we are indifferent to Him, spiritually lazy, ungrateful, or hateful toward Him; we sin against hope when we despair of God’s mercy and forgiveness, or when we presume upon salvation without real conversion; we sin against faith by doubting or rejecting Church teaching.
  • Dabbling in the occult is a sin – e.g., reading horoscopes, going to mediums, engaging in magic; we also sin by falling into superstition, treating our prayers or sacraments as if they were magical formulas; to avoid superstition, we must have a proper disposition of encountering God, not trying to control Him.
  • The sin of sacrilege denigrates sacred things or persons, and is especially heinous when directed against the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ; other forms of irreligious behavior include testing God because we question His love for us.
  • By definition, atheism is a sin because of its outright denial of God, and agnosticism, which won’t discern one way or another, similarly fails to give God His due; yet an individual’s level of culpability varies greatly according to circumstances, especially if one has been scandalized by the sins of believers.

Live Your Faith

Each one of us is personally addressed by God in the Commandments, as the Hebrew text makes clear. When God says, “You,” He is using the singular form, not the plural, underscoring the personal relationship He courts with every single one of us.

This prompts us to examine our consciences, and reflect upon how faithfully we have given love in response to the One Who has loved us so. What do I put first in my life, prioritizing above everything else? If it’s not God, it’s an idol.