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JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE AND THE PACHAMAMA SCANDAL AT THE VATICAN AMAZON SYNOD
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, November 09, 2019
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12, Psalm 45, 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17, John 2:13-22


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’” (John 2:13b-16).

 

 

Today Jesus cleanses the temple, driving out the moneychangers together with their sheep and oxen, overturning their tables, and scattering their coins on the floor. This is certainly a dramatic action. What could have caused Jesus to have such anger and zeal for the temple that he would do something like this? Why did he do it?

 

 

Jesus had great respect for the temple as the house of his Father, the house of God, a house of prayer. The moneychangers had good intentions, enabling people to change their foreign currency into the Tyrian coins acceptable for buying animals for sacrifice as well as providing them with the animals that they could buy, which they would not have been able to bring with him had they come from a distance.

 

 

Nonetheless, one can clearly see what a disturbance this would cause with the noise and smell of the animals and with the interchange going on between worshipers and the moneychangers. So while the intention was originally good, the way it was being carried out in Jesus’ time was really defeating the purpose of the temple itself, which was to be a place where people could escape from the world and its activities and noise and come into the silent presence of God and into an atmosphere and environment that inspires prayer. Prayer was all-important to Jesus, who prayed often himself, even at times spending an entire night on a mountain in prayer to God (Luke 6:12).

 

 

Originally the moneychangers had their stalls “in the Kidron Valley on the slopes of the Mount of Olives” (Andreas J Koestenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Baker Academic, 2004), page 107). Jesus was obviously strongly opposed to the installation of the moneychangers’ stalls within the temple area itself.

 

 

What meaning might this gospel reading for today’s feast of the Dedication of the pope’s church in Rome, the Lateran Basilica, have for us today? It certainly should mean that the houses of God, which today are our churches, should be held in high honor and respect as places of prayer, silence, and the presence of God, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle behind the central altar in our churches today. Churches should be places of reverence and silence in respect for God’s presence and should be places where people are attracted to come for silent prayer and public worship, when the Holy Mass is offered.

 

 

Our churches should not be places of buying and selling, nor should they be places of conversation, greeting of friends, and meeting of people that you know, which unfortunately is what has happened in most of our Catholic churches today since the Second Vatican Council. This is really a desecration of the church building and of the Eucharist which is present in the tabernacle. It should be a place of silence and reverence, not a meeting place for conversation.

 

 

It should also go without saying that the church is not a place for idolatry; and the liturgy of the Mass is no place for pagan idol worship and the worship of false gods, for such worship breaks the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath … You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:3-4, 5).

 

 

Not only should the church building and even more the Holy Mass not be a place where pagan idolatry takes place and images of false gods are bowed down to and worshiped, but such activity should not take place at all in a Christian gathering of prayer. Unfortunately we saw all of the above happen during the month of October, 2019, during the Amazon synod, both in the Vatican Gardens in the presence of the pope and various Cardinals and bishops as well as in the processions out of St. Peter’s Basilica at the end of Holy Mass during the synod.

 

 

Pagan idols (Pachamamas) were worshiped in the Vatican garden with people bowing their heads to the ground before these false gods in the presence of the pope and bishops. These false gods (Pachamamas) were then placed each night in a Carmelite Catholic Church just outside the Vatican and kept there each night until finally a bold, brave, and courageous young man seized them and cast them into the Tiber River, at which the pope apologized to the synod for anyone who was offended by these idols being cast into the Tiber River! Later they were recovered by the police, and the pope announced that perhaps they will be used in the final procession of the closing Mass of the synod, at which point some of the bishops told the pope that if this were to happen, they would not participate in the final Mass of the synod. So when the final Mass was celebrated, the pagan idols were not present. For an overview and summary of this scandal see here.

 

 

The young man who seized these idols and cast them into the Tiber River is a modern-day example of what Jesus did in cleansing the temple of the moneychangers and their animals. (See this young man here explain why he cast these idols into the Tiber River.) Probably, of all the things that the synod did, this worship of pagan idols and their being cast into the Tiber River will remain the main thing that most people will remember, and I think it probably is the most instructive thing that actually happened during the synod, making it clear to the world that introducing idolatry and worship of false gods under the guise of a false idea of “inculturation” should have no place in the Catholic Church, in a church building, or on church grounds, and certainly not in the Catholic liturgy of the Mass. If the synod accomplished nothing else but that, it did something good for the Church and the world.

 

 

In today’s second reading St. Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). This is also something that is important for us to reflect on, on this feast of the first Temple and first church of Christianity, the Lateran Basilica in Rome, the pope’s cathedral, whose dedication we celebrate today.

 

 

We want God’s temple to be clean, not to have idols and moneychangers in it, and not to be a place of noise and confusion. Our hearts as temples of God should be the same. We can be tempted by many things that we see around us, so we must be ever on our guard and try not to let our hearts be defiled, polluted, and divided from a single-minded, undivided love of God. We can live a very happy and joyful spiritual life as justified Christians living in the splendor of God’s righteousness within us, which he has reckoned to us by our faith in Christ, because of his atoning death for our sins on the cross, when we put our faith in him. We would not want this splendor to be dimmed and polluted by temptations from the world around us, and so we must always try to keep our hearts and minds pure and focused on the Lord, on his will, and on the work in this world that we as justified Christians have committed and dedicated ourselves to.

 

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