15 March 2009 3rd Sunday of Lent
Exodus 20, 1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Cor 1, 22-25; John 2, 13-25
The Season of Lent has a running theme: the motif of change and transformation. The reason for all the mortifications such as fasting and abstinence, the rituals and liturgies of Holy Week, find its meaning in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus; but its effect should be a change of heart. The Gospel story of the purification of the temple is another story of newness.
The Temple of Jerusalem was, for Jews, the site of God’s presence and a visible sign of His faithfulness. Thus, every Jew would come to Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices. We could imagine how shattering the experience of the Jews when they saw their temple destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman soldiers of Titus. This was not the first time it was destroyed. King Solomon built the first temple, but it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC when they sacked the whole city. Construction of the Second Temple was authorized by King Cyrus the Great and ratified by King Darius the Great when the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland after being exiled to Babylon. The temple was constructed again in 537 BC and dedicated in 515 BC. It was renovated five centuries later by Herod the Great in 20 BC. This was the temple that was destroyed by the Romans.
But the impact of the physical loss of the Temple was softened by the Theology of John the evangelist. He said that the temple was not anymore a building. It has been replaced by the risen Body of Christ. And thus the Gospel tells us that when Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered what Jesus said, that He was going to rebuild it in three days. Thus, He was not anymore referring to the physical building, but to His Body which was raised after three days. St. Paul further expanded it by saying that we are now the Temples of the Spirit (1 Cor 6, 19). In other words, the center of worship, does not anymore reside in one specific place such as Jerusalem. God is now present in ourselves, as He was in the Jerusalem temple. The sign of God’s fidelity can be found in our lives. He is now present in every single person you see around. This is new; this is the transformation. You can actually imagine that every person you see is indeed honorable and sacred: since all of us are temples of the Spirit, then we are to regard each one not just humanely but holy.
However, we seldom experience and see the presence of God in our lives. Why? Our lives are like business stalls in the marketplace; our pre-occupation is selling our wares and minding our own businesses. Bishop Henri Nouwen tells us about the restlessness of our contemporary lives: First, our days are filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, appointment to keep, prayers to recite. Second, though we are satisfied with many things at parang walang katapusan ang trabaho (and we feel like our work will never end), we seldom feel satisfied and at peace. Ironically, we see that when we are filled, we become unfulfilled. There is never a space, a time to stand behind our own lives and reflect.
Jesus Christ tells us to drive and whip out all of our sheep and oxen, our daily businesses; to over turn our tables; to stop our work so that, the temple of our lives is reclaimed, and its sacredness becomes apparent again.