Herald of Hope

The Lenten season is a time to prepare ourselves to enter more fully into the Paschal Mystery of the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. It is a time to examine our hearts and to make the necessary changes to prepare ourselves for a more profound encounter with Jesus.

There are many images from the Sacred Scriptures that can help us during this Lenten season to focus on leaving behind our sinful ways and turning back to God. For example, Jesus begins his ministry by calling people to change their lives and to believe in the Good News of the kingdom. He says, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15) Simon Peter, after he follows Jesus’ instructions and lowers his nets into the deep, catching a tremendous haul of fish, says, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Immediately, Jesus calls him to follow him. (Luke 5:1-11) Jesus also tells the story of the prodigal son to illustrate God’s readiness to forgive when a sinner repents. The wayward son confesses, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you,” and the father welcomes him back with open arms. (Luke 15:11-30)

Another helpful image is that of the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus drove the moneychangers and animals from the temple area, saying, “Stop making my father’s house a marketplace.” (John 2:13-22) It is an image that can be useful to us as we cleanse the temple of our heart of distractions, impurity and selfish desires to make room for God’s forgiveness and life-giving grace. We cleanse our “temple” to make it a worthy dwelling place of God’s Spirit.

Do you have a holy place, a sacred space where you find it easy to pray, a place where you feel you are in the presence of God, a place that brings peace to your heart? I bet many of you do. For some, it may be a place in nature, a wooded area, the top of a hill or a place along a lake. For others, it may be a special church, a chapel or a shrine.

For the Jewish people in the time of Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem was the sacred place, the place where God dwelt amid his people. It was the place where heaven and earth came together, and God interacted in a special way with human history. It was the holy place, the center of the universe.

The temple was the place where Jewish people from all over came to offer sacrifice to God. Those who came from other countries and far off lands did not travel with animals of sacrifice, so there was a need for part of the temple area to be a place where animals were sold. It was a legitimate market. There was a need for money changers, too, because using Roman coins in the temple area would be a sacrilege. They needed to change them for the proper coins to buy the animals of sacrifice. Why, then, did Jesus drive out the animals, the merchants and moneychangers?

At first glance, it might appear that Jesus was simply outraged at the frenetic activity of buying and selling, the cacophony of human voices and animal sounds, and the overall marketplace atmosphere that he encountered. But remember, this was nothing strange to Jesus. He was very familiar with the temple, and the market was completely legitimate, operating in an appropriate place in the temple area.

What, then, explains the action of Jesus in the temple? A deeper look into this scene from John’s Gospel reveals that what Jesus was doing was a deliberate prophetic action. The Scripture scholar, Sr. Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., writes that the explanation can be found in a text from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah and a Psalm verse that the disciples reflected upon when they witnessed what Jesus did in the Temple. (See Dianne Bergant with Richard Fragomeni, “Preaching the New Lectionary, Year B,” Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1999, pp. 108-111.)

The final chapter of the Book of the Prophet Zechariah is an apocalyptic account of the future coming of the day of the Lord, and it tells of how those who remain true to the Lord will be rescued from their tribulations and receive great blessings. On that great day, the Lord will find the sacrifices of his faithful ones acceptable, and there will no longer be any need for merchants in the house of the Lord. (Zechariah 14:1-21)

By driving the merchants out of the temple area, Jesus is making the claim that that the time of fulfillment has come. With Jesus comes a new era, the fulfillment of the promised kingdom of God.

The Psalm verse that the disciples reflected upon is Psalm 69:10, which reads, “Because zeal for your house consumes me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.” The reference is to the house of the Lord, the Temple. The Psalm verse reveals that Jesus’ actions are in accord with the will of God, even though he will face opposition of many.

Those who were in the Temple area as he drove out the merchants demanded that he show them a sign to justify his actions. Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up.” He was speaking of his coming Passion, Death and Resurrection. By using the image of the Temple to speak of himself and his saving Passion, he identified himself as the New Temple.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. In Jesus, God ushers in a new covenant. Jesus himself is the power of God, and in his Passion, God reveals his power in the crucified and risen body of Jesus.

What does this mean for us in this Lenten season? Jesus is for us the new temple, torn down and raised up. He is the source of all life and all holiness. He is the center of our universe.

We know that we, too, are temples of God’s Spirit in this world. We are called to lives of holiness. We are called to hear the Word of God and put it into practice. We are called to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. We are called to spread the Good News of Christ by means of our words, attitudes, and works of love and mercy. This Lenten season is a time to learn to trust that God’s grace will transform us into instruments of his love in this world.