4 March [3rd Sunday of Lent]
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?"
This is one of the few incidents described in a similar way in all four gospels. It is full of resonance from the Old Testament. "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple" (Malachi 3:1), and, the passage quoted by Jesus on the occasion, "Zeal for your house has consumed me" (Psalm 69:9). This act of cleansing the Temple signalled the new age, the time of the Messiah, when God would be worshipped "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23), because God is spirit.
In the subsequent argument with the Jews he changes the focus to another Temple - not the stone Temple from which he had just routed the moneychangers, but instead (as John said), "he was speaking of the temple of his body." The stone Temple would now be obsolete, and in fact it was destroyed in 70 AD. But the new temple, too, would be destroyed: he himself would soon be put to death. Soon there would be no temple of any kind. Worship of the Father would not be localised anywhere on earth.
But he had said, "Destroy this temple (my body) and in three days I will raise it up." The Risen Christ is henceforth the only Temple. All prayer and worship is "in Christ Jesus." Christians have no holy city, no temple but the Risen Christ. The early Christians were sometimes accused of being pagans. Churches are not places where God is enclosed. Once Christians began to be supported rather of persecuted by the Roman Empire, they built places of worship on the plan of pagan 'basilica' (basilicas were used for law courts or for commerce). A church is not a temple; it encloses us, not God. The Irish for a church is teach an phobail, "the people's house".
We are members of Christ's body (1 Corinthians 12:27), and as such we ourselves are the place of prayer and worship. We have no other temple, and so, everywhere we are is our temple. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
This temple – our body, our soul, our being – is in constant need of cleansing, as Jesus cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem., "This temple," said Meister Eckhart, "is the human soul, which God has made exactly like Himself, just as we read that the Lord said: 'Let us make humankind in our image and likeness' (Genesis 1:26)…. So like Himself has God made the human soul that nothing else in heaven or on earth, of all the splendid creatures that God has so joyously created, resembles God so much as the human soul." Everything unworthy of God has to be cast out. This is for all times, but it has a special resonance in the season of Lent.
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