Reflections from Fr Claude

Third Sunday of Lent

In John’s gospel the cleansing of the temple occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Temple was central to Judaism. It was the focal point of the nation and its way of life – its worship and music, its politics and society, its national celebration and mourning. This was the place God had promised to live amongst the people.

Some suggest that overturning of the tables in today’s gospel could be seen as his ‘mission statement. Jesus’ heart was on fire as his words and actions and express his anger. This action parable of cleansing the temple sets the stage for what is to come where Jesus' identity and mission are intertwined. As God’s presence on earth who is in solidarity with all who suffer any kind of injustice, he hears the cry of the poor, with the constant assurance, ‘I will live among you. I will be a living temple.’


Jesus challenged the foundation of worshiping 'money' and the practice of narcissistic consumerism. We see in the gospel that the Temple has seen its day and Jesus – the new temple- is its replacement. Rather than see God as wrathful and needing to have this wrath placated, Jesus undercuts this by showing us that God is nonviolent, not wrathful; that God is compassionate, loving and forgiving. The new temple is not separate from the world but fills it completely. No one is excluded. There is no inner and outer chamber. Jesus is for all people. This temple does not take life, it gives life.


What was Jesus’ problem? Clearly it was seen as corrupt. The marketplace atmosphere was out of place. When challenged about his action, and asked what it means, he points to his own death and resurrection. He is the true temple: he is the Word made flesh and this is where God has chosen to dwell.


But we see our country prostituting itself when it is willing to join, what Pope Francis calls, the ‘merchants of death.’ Along with European Union countries, the USA, we hypocritically enable the violence in Palestine and Ukraine to continue as we call for limits of civilian deaths. We provide $43 million in arms to a Philippine government that commits gross human rights violations. Arms have one purpose – to kill and destroy people created in God’s image and likeness. A 2018 statement in response to the government’s intention to be among the top ten arms manufacturers, says, At the heart of this is the old question: is it about people or about profits? The arms trade does not work to bring about peace but destruction of people, destruction of sentient life, infrastructure and the environment. It does not contribute to the well-being of people. It does not build schools and hospitals. It is does not build roads and railways that serve ordinary people. It is not just another form of trade like the car industry or other manufacturing industry’ (Claude Mostowik). This connects with a painting by Louis Duffy in the National Gallery of Victoria called Christ driving out the money changers with a very contemporary theme. It has men in business suits are gathering in a graveyard. The money changers have morphed into arms dealers standing on the graves of the dead as a Jesus figure wields a baton to disrupt this activity.


The marketplace mentality is with us. Jesus acted radically to eliminate injustice and greed. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis joins hands with Jesus to decry the excesses of our global system which allows for gross wealth for a few, excessive wealth for many in developed countries, and desperate and degrading poverty for many others.


As one in whom the very presence of God dwelled, Jesus could readily call himself a temple. John has told us that Jesus, the Word of God, became flesh and pitched his tent among us (1:14). In Jesus, God became present to us in flesh and blood, in time and space. We too are temples, places where God chooses to take up residence. Jesus had clearly lost faith in the temple, which is why when interrogated by the Jews about his permit to do what he did, he said ‘Tear down this temple and I will build it up in three days’. John records how the disciples later realised Jesus meant his body and not the building, which suggests the home of God is no longer a building but wherever our heart is. It is about people and relationships. It is interesting that the only other time Jesus speaks of God’s house, is where he says, ‘In my (Father’s) house there are many rooms’ (John 14) which is followed up with Jesus inviting his disciples to ‘Stay with me.’ It is not a building, not something exclusive or mono-cultural or a single room, but a diverse, multiversal home of peace and hospitality. The love and compassion of Jesus was boundless and embraced all. When violence and hate were present, he overturned it.


It would be problematical had Jesus remained silent as we have seen so many of our religious and faith leaders in the face of injustice, oppression and other acts of violence (Myanmar, Tigray, Palestine, Ukraine, Sudan, West Papua). Some of also been complicit by supporting or justifying violence as they do the market economy. Jesus' anger is not directed only at those who commit injustice but at those who do not see, will not see, stay silent, are not scandalized, saddened, and lacking in passion. This Gospel shows Jesus in opposition to any person or group or system that colludes with the idols and powers of the world and hides God’s presence by neglecting the practice of justice. The gospel confronts religion that is mixed up with power, money and authority. Worship that ignores the destruction of life seeks to avoid responsibility for nonviolently standing up against evil is not worship. Each Church community is a ‘house of prayer’ but we cannot close our eyes in prayer in order to overlook injustice. We break the commandment of taking God's name in vain when it is used to justify war, or claim that we make peace by going to war, or use God to justify our prejudices, e.g., when religion is used to justify terrorism; when we say ‘God hates………’; etc.


The ‘new temple’ consists of human beings who, as God’s people, do not need to rely on acts of ‘sacred violence’ to remain bonded together through kindness, compassion, care and service rather than scapegoating violence. We can all be caught up by prejudicial ‘isms’ that divide by rank, nationalism, race, class, education, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc., which cause much pain and dehumanise their practitioners. The privileged place of God's presence is not a building but in Jesus, in our humanity and the humanity of the other. The building can serve as a place to symbolise our unity and challenge us in our mission, but it also needs purification.


Jesus denounced a temple that concentrated power in service of the privileged, took advantage of some, and condemned and excluded others.  Would he foster the attitudes that reject some people because they are different sexually, or economically challenged, or of a different skin colour or Nation? Would he condone decisions made for financial gain or the use of money to hide wrong-doing?


Do we care enough to overturn a few tables? What about the tables of clericalism? The tables of military spending? The tables that still oppress women? The tables that continue to put profits over people? The tables that continue to discriminate against people because of their ethnic, racial, or sexual orientation? Contemplating Jesus' fury in the temple calls us to take account of ourselves. What religion do we proclaim in our worship and our daily actions? When we say that God is love, we assert that God's presence is mediated in relationships. Institutions may facilitate our awareness of God's presence, but we encounter God in prayer and in the love among us that makes God's own love palpable in our world


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