Meditations for March are by Bishop Robert Llanos, Auxiliary Bishop of Port of Spain.
Readings : Ex. 20:1-17 1Cor.1: 22-25 Jn 2: 13-25
The Ten Commandments was not the first code of ethics ever written but it is different from any other because it involves the reality of love whilst binding closely together religious belief and moral living. It is the core of the Law of the Jewish Scriptures and presumes the special covenantal relationship between Yahweh God and His people. Because of this a violation against any of the Ten Commandments is not only an act against other people but an act against God. The first three Commandments concern the relationship between God and us, and the other seven Commandments concern how we relate to each other but are in direct relationship to how we observe the first three commandments. It is clear then that how we worship and love God is determined by how we love, respect and reverence each other.
At the heart of the Law of Jewish scriptures is Covenant Love and Jesus in his person completes that law and fulfils it. A proper orientation towards law is what this weekend’s gospel is about. If the upholders of the Law in the Jewish community have lost sight of the reality of Covenant Love and its spirit in the law then the interpretation of that law becomes lifeless at best and destructive and immoral at worst. When Jesus enters the courtyard of the Temple reserved for Gentile converts he encounters there something that cries out for justice and truth, liberation and action. His soul becomes angry because its deepest love was being violated by the actions of selfish, vain, arrogant and greedy men who would use even religion to enslave and deprive others. It is not the physical Temple building or the animals and money that engage Jesus but what they symbolize, the desecration of his body, i.e. the body of Christ, the Church that is the Temple of God in which He dwells.
In the Creation story in Genesis 1, God declared everything He created ‘good’, but it is men’s and women’s misuse, abuse or inappropriate use of all that is good, that is ‘not good’, immoral, unethical or down right evil and sinful. When we use our vocations, professions, talents, treasures, successes and abilities against people or nature or things we sin against God and His creation. We sin against His love. We violate and desecrate His body, His temple. We create poverty and a destructive form of wealth. All of this is taking place in today’s gospel story. Pilgrims had to buy animals from the Temple courtyard at a costly price because the animals they brought with them were declared unsuitable (blemished) by the priest assigned to fraudulently declare them unsuitable for sacrifice. The Temple priests and Caiphas, the High Priest profited from this exercise. All persons twenty (20) years and over had to pay Temple tax but they could only do so with shekels because all other coins were considered idolatrous. The consequence was that the money changers made a profit on the exchange and handed over some of that profit to the Temple priests. Even the pigeon sellers who provided small animal sacrifices for the poor people were part of this fraudulent trade. The noise of the bargaining and haggling in the Temple courtyard meant that the Gentile converts couldn’t pray there. It has been estimated that twenty per cent (20%) of the annual income generated in the city of Jerusalem came from Temple activity especially at Passover.
When persons elevate themselves and their possessions above God and other people they engage in a form of idolatry which is a desecration to the Temple of God, i.e. His body. In the context of today’s Gospel, to misuse the Law to oppress God’s people is a serious sin against God’s love for them and this must anger Jesus because that is not who His Father is. We might want to reflect on our response when faced with similar situations in our families, our parish communities, or parish Church, our society and our world at large. Are we zealous enough to move to put things right or do we simply turn the other way and pretend all is well? Do we see our own selfish and idolatrous attitudes as desecrating the Temple of the Lord?
Loving Father, we pray through Jesus your Son that this Lenten season would be for us a time of genuine conversion so that our ‘zeal for your house’ would be expressed in compassion, mercy and caring for those who most need it.