March 3, 2024

The gospel account today is rather shocking, we see Jesus using physical force to expel the money changers and those selling animals from the precincts of the Temple. The Passover was near and so like during any major feasts a larger number of animals were needed for sacrifice. All male adult Jews were obligated by the Mosaic Law to come for the feast. (They were also obliged to come for two other major feasts of Israel, Pentecost and Tabernacles; Pentecost was the feast celebrating the close of the spring harvest, and Tabernacles was the feast to celebrate the fall harvest, when Jews would live in huts or tents during the harvest).  Jesus ‘went up’ to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was situated high on top of Mount Zion. 

But why was Jesus so angry at the money changers and those selling animals? After all they had a right to change money and sell animals. In fact, their jobs were necessary for sacrifices to be carried out. Usually animals were bought, then brought onto the Temple area for sacrifice.  However, because of huge crowds at such a time as Passover, animals were allowed in the northern part of the Temple area; there they were bought for sacrifice, and with money that was sacred money, for one could not buy sacrificial animals with secular, ordinary money – thus, money had to be exchanged for the buying.  It is this group of animal and money sellers that Jesus drove out of the Temple area.  He did it in the spirit of the OT: ‘this was my Father’s house, not a marketplace’; later, Jesus, always respectful of the Temple, called it a ‘house of prayer’.  That no one stopped Jesus from this rather startling and violent act is owed to the people’s awareness of prophets in their history who, while prophesying, would be recognized as coming from God and so not to be opposed.  The memory of the disciples reflects this liberty: “Zeal for your house will consume me”.

Those on the Temple area asked that Jesus explain his prophetic act; they expected a sign which would both justify and explain what Jesus has just done.  His answer surprised everyone; indeed, as the evangelist notes, Jesus’ disciples did not really understand his sign till after he had risen from the grave.  The sign Jesus gives is his resurrection, and it is given in a challenging way: you destroy me, and I will raise it up.  But Jesus was speaking about another sanctuary, another temple where God lived – his own body. Through this event we are reminded during Lent of what we are preparing to remember and celebrate – the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Saint Paul in the second reading guides us how we are to meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The basis of Christian belief is the crucifixion, by which the covenant with God is restored, and the corresponding baptism, which affirms one’s acceptance of the meaning of the cross. Paul is convinced that it is the crucifixion of Christ which stands in the way of faith and growth in faith.  Death, in short, makes no sense, if Christ is from God; Jesus should have lived and brought the kingdom of God to fruition.  

Following his usual division of the world into Jew and others, Paul points out what each think is the key to salvation.  Jews look for signs.  That is, so used to God’s working miracles for the frequent saving of Israel from its troubles, one might now also expect signs, assurances, miracles – and the cross is none of that.  To the Jewish mind the cross is inconsistent with God’s traditional actions on behalf of Israel.  The others (Gentiles, pagans, irreligious) think they will find salvation for themselves in wisdom, in thinking out solutions to their problems.  Greek and Roman philosophers represent the conviction that one can be happiest by being wise.

Paul insists that, if one responds positively to the call to faith in Jesus crucified, he will find salvation, for it is, mysteriously we admit, the death of Jesus which brings what human power and human wisdom cannot bring – happiness, salvation. What is foolishness, i.e., the crucifixion, to the Gentile and what is weakness, death on a cross, to the Jew is God’s choice of the way He has planned to save us.  God seems weak and foolish, but to those invited to believe, He is the wisest and strongest.  The proof of that is the resurrection to perfect happiness; no other ‘way to happiness’ achieves this.       


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Updated: March 4, 2024

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