daily biblical sermons

Would Jesus, who cleansed the temple of unworthy behavior, approve of the way we behave in our churches today?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, March 07, 2021
Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 18, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, John 2:13-25

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




“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and 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.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for thy house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign have you to show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had spoken. Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:13-25).



Today we read about one of Jesus’ most violent and angry acts, his cleansing of the temple from the money-changers and those who sold oxen, sheep, and pigeons for sacrifices. These people performed useful services, enabling foreign Jews to change their Roman currency for local Judean money so that they could buy animals to offer in sacrifice. And they offered for sale right in the temple all the animals that they would need.



So, what does Jesus have against these useful people, and why does he so violently chase them out of the temple? They were not actually in the part of the temple where worship was conducted, but they were within the temple wall, making a great din, haggling over the proper rate of exchange and the proper price of animals, all in the full hearing of those that came to pray, meditate, and offer sacrifice in a recollected and peaceful place, in the holiest place on earth for a Jew at that time.



How can you sit in peaceful silent meditation, when people our shouting and haggling and animals are making noises right behind you? In any case, Jesus leaves no doubt in our minds that this was improper behavior in the house of God. Not only is he annoyed by it, but he is so annoyed that he does something about it. He doesn’t just report it to the priests, which surely would have done no good, but he actually makes a whip out of cords and overturns the tables of the money-changers, with their coins clanking on the floor and rolling around, and drives the sellers of the animals together with their animals and the money-changers out of the temple, saying, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16).



He doesn’t say, “You shall not make God’s house a house of trade,” or “You shall not make the house of our heavenly Father a house of trade,” but he says, “You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” In saying this, he is revealing that he is the Son of God by nature, that is, the Son of God in a totally unique way that no one else shares in. This is his authority for doing this extraordinary act that no other person could legally or rightly do.



Who is Jesus – just an ordinary man, in their opinion – to take the law in his own hands and act in this violent way in God’s house, chasing out the money-changers and the sellers of sacrificial animals, who had the permission of the chief priests and Sanhedrin to change money and sell animals in the temple. Where, they wanted to know, did he get his authority to do this? So “the Jews [that is, the authorities] then said to him, ‘What sign have you to show us for doing this?’” (John 2:18).



The temple authorities were the ones who would give someone like Jesus authority to cleanse the temple, and they know that they didn’t give it to him. So, they assume that Jesus will claim that he has divine authority, because he is a prophet or man of God, and the temple is being desecrated. Therefore, they challenge him to perform a miracle to prove that he is authorized by God to take this violent action in the most holy place on earth.



Jesus, of course, gave many miraculous signs in his healings, and so he had no need to give them another sign. Nonetheless, he does promise to give them the sign of his resurrection, and indeed after he had risen from the dead, it will be clear to everyone where his power comes from. So, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Then the evangelist explains, “But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).



What does all this mean for us today? In my grammar school and high school days, before the Second Vatican Council and all the changes that took place at that time, I remember the silence and awe of being in a church. No one spoke. Everyone was there to pray. Not all the changes that came after Vatican II are for the good of the Church, and one of the changes is the loss of respect for the house of God.



Many churches today are like meeting places for friends, and as they wait for Mass to begin, they shake hands with one another and introduce one another to other friends and ask how the family is, how their vacation was, how their job is going, and what they think about what is happening in our country. Then, right after receiving Holy Communion, instead of staying to make a silent act of thanksgiving at this highest spiritual point of the day, when the Lord Jesus Christ is sacramentally and physically present within our body and spirit, everyone stands at the back of the church, shaking hands with friends and talking.



Is this change really an improvement? Is it really for the good of the church? Yes, socialization is a good and necessary thing, but so also is silence, meditation, and prayer, especially right after receiving the Eucharist and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the church. So, if we divide our time, we will have times for socialization and times for silence and reverence before God. But if we mix the two together all the time, we will have socialization, but we will have destroyed the solitude and silence of the house of God and its importance in our life.



How would Jesus react to our new post Vatican II behavior in our churches? I think we can get a good idea of how he would react by reading today’s gospel. Normally we picture Jesus as a peaceful, calm, quiet, and holy man. I don’t deny this, but that makes all the more striking his violent angry behavior in today’s gospel, where he makes a whip out of ropes and actually overturns the tables of the money-changers, spilling out their money, and chases the sellers of animals together with their oxen and sheep out of the temple, crying out, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16).



I think this gives us a pretty good idea of how Jesus would react to our loss of reverence in our churches today. It shows that he expects silence and reverence in the house of his Father. He expected great reverence in the Jewish temple, which was still part of the Old Testament. How much more reverence would he expect in our New Testament churches where the Blessed Sacrament is present in the tabernacle and where we celebrate the Eucharist. Our Catholic churches have throughout history been places of deep reverence, silence, and prayer. How is it that we have suddenly lost, forgotten, and abandoned this reverence, awe, and deep silence in so many of our churches? Is this a good thing? Is this proper behavior? I don’t think so.

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