It’s Time to Cleanse the Temple

The following is a reflection given by Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU, at St. William Church in Louisville on Sunday, March 7, 2021.

OK, folks, listen up. There is a new sheriff in town! And this sheriff is no namby-pamby. This sheriff means business. He is upset with what is going around town. He means to clean it up! He means to clean it out! He’s not angry exactly. He just calls ‘em as he sees ‘em. And what does he see—injustice, scandal, thievery, cheating, stealing, mockery.  It is just that zeal for God’s house is consuming him. That is what His disciples thought as they stood there in amazement. It’s just he had to do it, no matter the consequences.

Finally, after he had let the pigeons go, the temple authorities intervened. “What right do you have to do this?” they asked. “Give us a sign.” Then this new sheriff, Jesus from Nazareth, the carpenter’s son, (the same one who Paul says is an obstacle to the Jews and madness to the Greeks), perhaps pointing a finger to himself, said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Maybe everyone around missed him pointing to himself because the authorities did not see it. They thought he meant the temple of stones and mortar. The disciples did not see it. They did not get it until after the resurrection and then they said “Oh, is that what he meant!”

So, Jesus cleansed the temple. So what? So, what is that to us today?

Well, look around. Can we think of any temples that need cleansing.? Our governments—international, national, and local? Any whip of cords that could be used here? How about against the same things that Karina called “wild beasts” a couple weeks ago? Have those wild beasts turned up in government temples today? Racism, excessive nationalism, fear of immigrants (even children), police brutality, unjust arrests? Hatred of LGBTQ persons? Maybe the beasts have turned up in the temples of governments.

And what about the temple of the churches ours and others? Do the tables of clericalism, thievery, pedophilia, self-righteousness, misogyny, or power need to be turned over, chased out, spoken to in harsh words? Maybe.

And what about the temples of ourselves? “Ah, now there’s the rub.” (to quote Hamlet). Isn’t that what Lent is all about? Cleansing ourselves—turning our own tables over before we can have the zeal, the right, to overturn other’s tables. Looking at our own attitude toward skin color. Looking at our own carbon footprint. Looking at our own greed. Looking at our own jealousy. Looking at our own prejudices. Looking for our own blind spots. Looking at our own____________. We each need to fill in that blank.

Today’s first reading is a guide for cleansing our personal temple. Let’s close our eyes and think of ourselves in our inner temple and see ourselves turning over the table that lets us rationalize that we don’t have time for God or prayer or reflection. Let’s see ourselves turning over that booth that wants to tell the “little white lie” about our actions or whereabouts or opinions that might not go well with friends. Let’s imagine ourselves taking a whip to what makes us want to look at the porn magazine or dwell on that salacious thought. Let’s envision ourselves opening our cages and shooing out those pigeons of jealousy about wanting a different spouse or house or car or job or_____________ (another blank to be filled in).

And so, it’s Lent. It’s temple cleansing time. Cleansing on the outside? Yes. Helping to cleanse other temples? Yes. Cleansing on the inside? Definitely! Yes, definitely!

“But there’s one more thing,” as Columbo would say. After Jesus, the new sheriff in town, left the temple, people were in awe. They never saw anyone with that courage…They never saw anyone  with that kind of “quick draw.” The sheriff, however, was not about to be flattered by them. And he walked away. Jesus knew our nature way too well.

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.
Jn 2:13-25

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