HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B
TOPIC: CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Jn 2:13-25
Message # 209: “The Sufferings of the Church”
1. The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother calls our attention to the sufferings of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Her heart continues to be pierced by the sword through the sufferings of the Church (letter b). Being the mother of Christ, she is also the mother of the Church. The mother also suffers when the daughter suffers (letter c). She did not specify in this message what those sufferings are. But in other messages, she said these are the great apostasy, serious errors being taught, and the internal division in the Church due to disobedient bishops and priests.
b) She assures us that she has in her heart all “the sufferings of the Pope, the bishops, the priests, of consecrated souls, and of the faithful” (letter d). This should give us consolation that in our times of pains and sufferings, the Blessed Mother is one with us. We are never alone.
c) So she gives us her maternal inspiration and guidance: “Have trust and patience; have courage and hope!…The Church will again flourish” (letter g). The sufferings we encounter must never stop us from our resolve to follow Jesus more closely.
d) This message is related to the Sunday Gospel. Jesus was angry at seeing the Temple being violated and desecrated. This is also the reason for the sufferings and pains of the Blessed Mother – seeing her children, the Church, being subjected to all kinds of abuses and humiliation, division and discord.
2. Reflections on the Sunday Gospel
a) Anger is a legitimate human emotion. As such, it is indifferent: it is neither good nor bad. There are two kinds of anger. The anger displayed by Jesus when he drove out the moneychangers and vendors in the Temple is called righteous anger. He was simply consumed by his love for the Father: “Zeal for your house consumes me!” He did not hurt anyone, nor did he utter expletives and bad words. His action was a lesson to the people about a new understanding of the Temple and a challenge to a life of purity and holiness. The other kind of anger is sinful, and it is, in fact, one of the seven capital or deadly sins. This is the anger, which is motivated by egoism, pride, vengeance and a desire to inflict harm on others. It is this anger that has caused so much violence, pain and sufferings in the world today.
b) To be angry is a perfectly human emotion or feeling. But we have always to examine our motivations. That is why we are warned to always have control over our emotions. These are the irascible and concupiscible appetites in our human nature. We just cannot let them go out of hand. As true man, Jesus had these same appetites, but he had perfect control over them. Controlling our emotions and feelings is part of self-discipline. Control is different from suppression. While suppression is unhealthy, control is self-mastery. It is a clear indication of a mature personality. But this is not easy. It takes a lot of patience, perseverance, vigilance and a lifetime of practice. That is how to develop the Christian virtues. For every capital sin, there is corresponding virtue that has to be developed in order to combat these sins. The season of Lent is always a good opportunity for us to exercise our virtues and practice self- discipline. Fasting and abstinence are some of the most common practices towards achieving this goal. Basically, it is the practice of self- denial that will help us.
c) The Temple of Jerusalem is the center of worship for the Chosen People. It is there that the Ark of the Covenant is kept in the Holy of Holies. That is why the people regard it as the most holy place since the presence of God resides in the Ark and in the Temple itself. There is only one Temple. On ordinary Sabbath days, the people go to their synagogues to worship and listen to the Torah. But they have to make a pilgrimage to the Temple at least once every year.
The Temple was a reconstruction of the original one and its work began in 19 BC. It took forty-six years to finish it. So this event must have taken place in the Passover of 28 AD or later (cf. Jerusalem Bible Commentary). The whole structure is subdivided into several sections. The outermost section is called the court of the heathens or gentiles. Next to it is the court for women, then followed by the court of the men. The inner section is the sanctuary, reserved only for the priests, and the innermost part of it, which is called Holy of Holies, is where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. Nobody can enter it, except the priest who is assigned (by drawing of lots) to offer incense. It was here that the priest Zechariah saw the angel who announced the conception of his son, John the Baptist. The place described in the Gospel is in the outermost part of the Temple, the court of the heathens. The moneychangers are there because the Temple has a special kind of coins, which is only for temple use. Those selling oxen and doves are also there because these are sacrificial animals. However, as in any place where transactions of buying and selling take place, the whole area becomes noisy, chaotic, and there is the usual cheating and tricks involved. The holy place becomes secular and desecrated. This is what made Jesus very angry: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” He had to cleanse the Temple.
d) “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This declaration has two meanings. The first meaning obviously refers to the physical structure of the Temple. It took forty-six years to rebuild it. That is why the people were indignant to hear Jesus say those words. However, since Jesus is God, there is nothing impossible. He can do whatever he says. But Jesus was not really referring to the Temple of Jerusalem. Rather, he was talking about the second meaning, which is metaphorical. St. John mentioned it: “But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” His statement is a prophecy of his impending death and resurrection. His body is the temple par excellence. If the temple is where the presence of God resides, then the body of Jesus is the absolute temple of all since he himself is God in the body, the God Incarnate (“in carne” – in the flesh): “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” His enemies will try to destroy his body when they crucify him on Good Friday. He will die and the body will be buried. But he will raise it up in his resurrection on the third day.
e) Furthermore, this statement of Jesus should also lead us to reflect on the importance and value of the human body. Men and angels are both creatures of God. In many ways, the angels are far superior to men. But one thing makes men more fortunate and blessed than the angels: when God willed to save man, He decided to become a man, not an angel. Since then, after the Incarnation, the human body has been sanctified and restored to its sublime status it once possessed in its pristine condition in creation. The human body is not just God’s creation; it is also such a noble and sacred creation for the Son of God took the form of a human body: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God. Rather he emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human state.” (Phil 2:6-8).
f) Understandably, the human body is weak, due to its predisposition to sin. The human nature has been weakened by sin. But God gives us graces and spiritual aid, especially through the sacraments, in order to be strong in our struggles against sin. During the Lenten Season, we are encouraged to do some acts of penance and mortification, like fasting and abstinence. These are not meant to punish the body. On the contrary, they are meant to strengthen our body in its spiritual life. This is the same with the athletes. They train everyday, and even deny themselves of some food and drink during training. These are not meant to punish the body, but to train and strengthen it through these acts of discipline and self-control. A body that is used to sacrifice and spiritual discipline does not easily succumb to temptations of the flesh.
g) There are many people who think that the body is evil, and therefore, to achieve holiness, what is necessary is flight from the body and from this material world. For some time this kind of thinking was embraced by many people. That is why they went into all sorts of corporeal disciplinary practices meant to punish the body such as self-flagellation, deprivation of food and drink, severe asceticism and the like. However, a renewed look at the Gospels revealed that such practices are not in consonance with the teachings of Jesus. The body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit: it is sacred, and must be treated with love and reverence. It should not be abused, and should not become an instrument for committing sin. Hence all kinds of sins, vices and activities that harm the body should, by all means, be avoided. Examples of these are smoking, excessive alcohol intake, over fatigue, lack of sleep, illicit and immoral sexual practices, sexual perversions, artificial birth control practices, sterilization (tubal ligation and vasectomy), overindulgence in food and drink (gluttony), having unhealthy diet, lack of exercise due to sloth (another capital sin), abuse of the eyes (too much TV and computer) and ears (too much noise and loud music).
In the Creed, we say “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” That is why, when a person dies, the traditional practice of the Church is Christian burial. And even though cremation is already allowed by the Church, the ashes still have to be treated with respect and dignity and must be buried in a sacred place. Disrespect and disregard of the sanctity of the human body is an indication of lack of belief in the resurrection of the body. Rejecting one tenet of the Creed makes one a heretic.
h) Jesus has not only a physical body. He has also the Mystical Body, the Church. This is the community of his disciples spread all over the world. He is the head of the Mystical Body; all the baptized Christians are the members of his Body. We are also reminded that we should also revere, respect and protect the Church. We should avoid doing anything that will harm the Mystical Body of Christ. After all, we all belong to this Body. It is like being passengers in one boat. Doing something harmful to the Church is like making holes on the boat we are in. We will all sink with the boat and die. That is why we are obliged to do some acts of reparation, that is, to repair the damage being done to the Church. Every Christian is duty bound to do everything in his power to contribute to the wellbeing and success of the Church, the Body of Christ.
i) Finally, what Jesus did in the Temple should remind us of our own behavior inside the church, the place of worship. If Jesus were here, he would surely be very angry with what he will see in many of our churches: vendors all around, pickpockets and thieves victimizing churchgoers, noisy children, garbage scattered all over, dogs roaming around, unruly behavior and improper attire of churchgoers, people talking or sending text messages on their cellphones and many other distractions. These are only on the physical aspect of the church. But in its communal aspect, being a community of believers gathered in the place of worship, there are more abuses: ill-prepared ministers and servers, shoddy liturgical celebrations, lack of devotion and preparation of the priests, unworthy and sacrilegious communions, the in-fighting and power struggle among church leaders, gossiping, and all sorts of scandalous behaviors. The anger of Jesus displayed in the Gospel should frighten us and lead us to do something to minimize, if not totally stop, all these abuses against the “House of the Father.”
3. Closing Song
“Isang Pananampalataya, Isang Pagbibinyag, Isang Panginoon”
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Pag-usapan ang iba’t ibang uri ng pang-aabuso sa ating katawan. 2. Paano tayo makakatulong upang mapalakas ang pagkakaisa ng Simbahan, ang Katawang Mistiko ni Kristo? 3. Isa-isahin ang mga nakikitang maling gawain at paglapastangan sa Bahay ng Diyos. Paano natin maitutuwid ang mga ito?