3rd Sunday of Lent 2009
Take all this out of here.
Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counter there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers' coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon sellers, "Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father's house into a market."Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: "Zeal for your house will devour me."
I have a demanding question for you: What are the sacred things you turn into a market? Before you answer for yourself, you may think how sacred things are treated in the world around us. Take the Lord’s Day: Sunday trading has turned it into a market. When we choose to do our shopping on a Sunday afternoon, we are supporting a system that has people buying and selling, and workers serving them, when all concerned might be better off out in the countryside or resting with their families or having quiet time with the Lord.
Our world turns First Communion and Confirmation into a market when parents must worry about the expenses they incur, and children are encouraged to think only of the clothes they will wear, the food they will eat and the money they will receive. Many young couples live together for several years without the sacrament of marriage before they can afford a wedding that costs thousands of euro.
Trading with God.
There are other less obvious ways we can trade with sacred things. We can turn our relationship with God into a market. We keep the commandments and we say our prayers, and almost unknown to our selves we expect to be paid for this. If trouble comes, if our prayers are not answered, if other less devout people are prospering and we are not, we can be angry with God because he has not kept his side of the bargain. This is far from the attitude of Job who said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken back. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’
In family life we can turn what is sacred into a market. Husbands and wives can turn their relationship into a battleground; parents can use their children to fulfil their own ambitions. The safety of others is sacred but thoughtless people trade it for their own satisfaction when they drink and drive, or drive too fast. The environment is turned into a market when it is exploited and destroyed for gain. The poor of the world are traded in order to maintain a comfortable life for those who are better off.
The zeal of Jesus.
When Jesus came to the Temple in Jerusalem and saw the traders and the money changers, he did not say: ‘this is how it is, and how it has been for generations - nothing can be done about it.’ He was filled with anger and zeal and he took strong firm action to bring the offenders to their senses. Often our sin is in not getting angry: we see something wrong that is harmful to people and offensive to God; instead of getting angry, we get used to the wrong and do nothing about it.
But there are always people like Jesus: wherever you see sacred things turned into a market, expect to see someone challenging those who are in the wrong. We have seen this in the enormous outrage of people over the physical and sexual abuse of children by priests and religious. We have seen it in the strong action which trade unions have taken against the exploitation of under-paid workers, and in the public’s revulsion over the mistreatment of elderly patients in nursing homes.
This is the anger of Jesus, and you may have experienced yourself in a smaller way when someone got angry with you for turning what was sacred into a market.
Prayer. From Psalm 68 (69).
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame
through me, Lord of hosts;
let not those who seek you be dismayed through me, God of Israel.
It is for you that I suffer taunts,
that shame covers my face,
that I have become a stranger to my family,
an alien to my mother’s children.
I burn with zeal for your house
And taunts against you fall on me.
I will praise God’s name with a song;
I will glorify him with thanksgiving,
For the Lord listens to the needy
and does not spurn his servants in their chains.