When God’s House Became a Den of Robbers

Third Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Exodus 20:1-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments: “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished the one who takes his name in vain. “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.”

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

John 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

This Sunday’s gospel reading could be mind-boggling to many Catholic faithful but is thought-provoking to those who love the Bible.

I remember the first time I heard this gospel reading, I walked away from Mass shaking my head thinking, “WOW! What a gospel reading! Jesus teaches against violence and yet violence was what he did! O well, he is God. I guess he can do anything he wants.” Further reflection on this passage would only bring more bewilderment. I had to question the motive underlying Jesus’ aggressive actions. Did he truly think driving out a few vendors and moneychangers would be sufficient to fix a Temple aristocracy that had been corrupt to the core for years? What’s the point of his actions? The bewilderment stayed with me for years.

What Jesus did, according to scriptural scholars (note), was to lay bare the false pretenses of piety and justice of the Temple authorities’ deeply corrupt system and practice which had effectively become “law”. Jesus was there to defend the true law, Israel’s divine law, at the heart of which were the Ten Commandments, as delivered to Israel by God Himself in the first reading. Acting as God’s representatives to look after His pilgrims and worshipers, the Temple authorities were in fact taking His name in vain, misusing it to cover their crimes (CCC 2148). Thus they should not be left unpunished (cf. Ex. 20:7). And punished they were – severely. How? Read on.

How are we to understand Jesus’ aggressive behaviors? They are generally seen as a prophetic sign of the Temple’s imminent destruction. Jeremiah accurately predicted the first destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C., which had become “a den of robbers” (Jer 7:11). Jesus saw the situation of Jeremiah’s time repeating itself in the corrupt Temple aristocracy of his time. Unfortunately, he was just as accurate as Jeremiah in predicting the Temple’s eventual demise: it was destroyed a second time by the Romans in 70. A.D., this time never to be re-built.

Note: See Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth II, pp.12-20; Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on John 2:14-15.

Other Sunday Reflections

Spiritual Talk – Third Sunday of Lent (Year B) 何庭耀神父

Just as the temple Jesus referred to is in reference to his own body, our bodies are also the dwelling place of God. We must purify ourselves and rid ourselves of sin so that Jesus’ Eucharistic body can enter our bodies. Regardless of how presentable our appearances are, living a life of morals is the most important thing.

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Edmond Lo

As a Catholic speaker, writer and RCIA Catechist, Edmond is very active in promoting and defending the Catholic faith. He has a MBA, a CPA-CMA, and a MTS (Master of Theological Studies) from U.T., St. Augustine's Seminary. Having worked many years as the CFO of a non-profit organization, he retired at 55 to follow his special vocation of evangelization. The activities he conducts include the CMCC Bible Study Program, the Catechism Revisited Program, the FLL Spiritual Formation Program, Living in the Holy Tradition, RCIA, family groups and retreats, etc. Edmond is a member of the FLL Core Team. He writes Sunday Mass reflections regularly for the weekly FLL NewSpiration. His personal blog: http://elodocuments.blogspot.com/