11 March 2012
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
A couple I know decided to go to Lourdes in France where the Blessed Virgin appeared to St.Bernadette. One of the things that struck them most was the very many large or small shops and stalls. These were selling all kinds of religious articles, medals, crucifixes, holy water bottles with Lourdes water etc. One of the owners rolled up in his big car as they passed his large store. Obviously trading in these religious objects was a very profitable venture for him. The one saving fact in all this was that these shops and stalls were kept a good distance away from the actual Basilica and Grotto. There was a barrier keeping them at a reasonable distance from the worshipping and praying areas.
Unfortunately in today’s gospel scene there was no such protective barrier. Right in the very heart of the temple itself was a large market in which all kinds of trading and money changing was going on. This provoked the anger of Jesus who angrily said to all the traders. ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market’.
Today’s gospel indicates what true religion is all about for Jesus. In the temple Jesus finds a new form of oppression of God’s people especially the poor. For the Jews, going up to Jerusalem to the Temple, was the highpoint of their religion. When there they would make an offering to Yahweh of sheep or of doves in the case of the poor. It was an expression of their desire to offer themselves to God. But sheep and doves had to be paid for and the Roman money was not acceptable so there were moneychangers who changed this money into the coins of the Temple. Every coin changed cost money even up to a day’s wages for a labourer depending on the amount changed. In reality, the religious leaders of the time were behind the trading taking place in the temple and were becoming rich at the expense of others. Jesus’ protest and rejection affected powerful interests, the interests of those who have replaced God (without denying God openly) by greed, which St. Paul would call idolatry. So idols are put in the place of God. It all seems very holy and good but Jesus sees through all this to what is really going on. Is the Church today totally free of this? Are we? Do we need to examine our consciences? What are the idols in our own lives? Where do we need to cleanse our own temples since we are all temples of the Holy Spirit?
In the biblical sense, all sin is a profanation of the Temple of God and the installing of idols there. If we exploit or abuse human beings we are profaning God’s temple which each one of them is.
Jesus came to liberate us all but the Temple scene shows that the religious leaders were oppressing the people of their day by insisting that temple sacrifices and temple worship were the most important forms of worship. This is a great effort to control people by telling them that God is mainly to be worshipped in the Temple setting. Is it not trying to confine our worship / service of God to a sacred place or time? It can give great power and riches to those who wish to control the worship of God.
In reality, the temple religion or indeed some church worship may consist in trying to confine God within a place, a time or in certain people only. The great good news in today’s gospel is that true worship is not confined only to sacred times or places or people. TRUE WORSHIP IS EVERYWHERE, at any time or by any people as long as they do God’s will and glorify him in loving and serving others. Since God is Love, then anywhere there is love there is God at work. So I can literally find God whilst in a bar drinking – maybe I’m listening to someone whom no one else listens to and who would never think of going to church or confession. If my interest is truly the good of the other, is that not a form of worshiping or serving God? But because of maybe a wrong understanding of true worship we might think God is principally in a church or a holy place, hardly in a bar!
Ultimately Jesus is saying that true religion is a Person, Jesus himself and our relationship with him. The centre of God’s presence was no longer to be a place but a Person, his beloved Son Jesus. Is that our own understanding of true religion?
Obviously we are not speaking against our churches or the worship we offer there. Jesus too loved the temple and the synagogue, but we want to ask ourselves whether we confine or limit God to a part of our lives, of our time, as if a temple or church which we go to maybe weekly is our only possibility of worshipping or encountering God? Do we see God as present in the depths of our ordinary daily lives, of our joys, our doubts, our traveling, our struggles and suffering etc?
Jesus is saying that we cannot buy or sell God. God loves us totally before we do anything for him. It is a matter of where our heart is, of our service, concern and forgiveness of others. It is about respecting all God’s creatures and all of his creation.
“Lord Jesus, may the Holy Spirit help us put our relationship with you at the centre of all our worship”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA