Thursday, 26 January 2017

St. John 2:13-22 - Part 1


These past many months since I posted a new section of the commentary have been marked by a seeming unending series of deaths: of close priest friends, my mother, other friends, countless innocents murdered by Islamic extremists, and a certain profound experience of deja vue, circa the 1930’s as Western leaders seem as wimpy appeasers in the face of the blood-lust of ISIS and other extremists.

 All the above weighed heavily upon my heart and occupied much of my time with intercessory prayer, especially Holy Mass.

All this in the Jubilee of Mercy, in the past year with renewed awareness of the Triduum, the days of redemption, mercy, triumph of life over death, love over hatred, mercy over vengeance.

[I had gotten only that far in the original notes when both for myself and accompanying others there were unexpected trips to emergency – my own health is okay now – and then where I had been living the place was becoming unliveable, the area increasingly dangerous for someone my age. My family found a place for me, helped with the move, and all that occurred just before Christmas and New Year’s. Only now, post all that am I settled in and able to resume these meditations and other writings.]

While continuing, helped by the Holy Spirit, taken by St. John, to seek to embrace ever more fully the Holy Gospel, I have been praying intently, daily for the conversion of all to Jesus, for we in the west, in Christianity, Judaism, other religions, have our own histories of hatred, violence, division.

We all need to repent, we all need in Christ to begin again, we all need to preach and live the Gospel of Life or there shall come crashing down upon us a catastrophe beyond imagining.

We need to learn in the very core of our beings, embrace and live out Christ’s own call to us to: “…learn from Me and become meek and humble of heart…” [cf. Mt. 11:29].

As the west, and so called Christendom in particular, goes ever more down the rabbit hole of abortion, euthanasia, gay ‘marriage’ and other contra-natural and divine law disorders, our prayer for an end to hatred, violence, chaos, is weakened.

Our baptized hearts must be quickened anew with the fullness of the light, truth, life of the Holy Gospel and as true imitators of and witnesses to Christ, even if the enemies of Christianity are not converted, we will be granted strength to be ‘white’ martyrs in our daily lives of courage and integrity unless or until called to be ‘red’ martyrs, such as the four nuns murdered by ISIS, the innocents slaughtered in Brussels and in other places, especially in the countries of the Middle East, for the majority of our Muslim brothers and sisters are among the innocents.

It is difficult not to hate an entire people or religion because of the evil mentality and actions of some who, claiming to be doing God’s will are in fact following satan and doing his bidding.

No matter our emotional reaction however we must choose in our hearts, like Christ, to forgive our enemies and do good to those who hate us. [cf. Mt. 5:44]

This is not an option for Christians.

 It IS an imperative.

It seems appropriate then to be meditating upon the cleansing of the Temple within the context of my own, yours, every human heart needing to be cleansed of all that is not truly of God, of Jesus our Redeemer and His Holy Gospel.

St. Matthew in 21:12,13; St. Mark in 11:15-17; St. Luke in 19:45,46 all record the cleansing, purifying of the Temple in just two verses each.

St. John who of all the sacred writers records the words of Jesus at greatest length here describes the event in the Temple with ten verses.

While the Synoptic accounts record this event at the end of Christ’s teaching and performing miracles prior to His Passion, St. John places this at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.

The import of both ‘placings’ point to the words of the Lord in Revelation 21:5 where He tells us to Behold, I make all things new.

Even though the physical temple in Jerusalem is purified, the ultimate temple is Christ’s own body. After His death and resurrection the place of worship will no longer be the temple in Jerusalem but the living, mystical body of Christ, the Church on earth. No longer will animals be offered in sacrifice as worship, intercession, for forgiveness of sins but Christ Himself, the true Lamb of God, will offer Himself in sacrifice on Calvary, a sacrifice renewed in every Holy Mass.

There is a continuation from Cana, which has preceded the Temple event, itself a symbol of the making new of Holy Marriage, of the relationship between trusting Jesus and doing whatever He tells us, between the mystery of Christ the Bridegroom, the Church, each baptized soul as His bride, the movement of the disciples to belief in Christ, a belief which will be tested especially at the time of Jesus’ arrest, execution, burial, but which will come to fullness when they encounter the risen Jesus.

v.13 – Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Passover is not only a most sacred event, sacred memorial for our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, but is central to the intervention of God in the life of the Chosen People, in salvation history. The lamb used in the feast is a pre-figuration of the Paschal Lamb Himself, Jesus our Lord, true God and true man, the real unblemished Lamb of God.

Like all faithful Jews, from childhood Jesus would have participated in the Passover and now He does so again and having gone up to Jerusalem enters the temple –v.14 – And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.

Having participated as a priest at World Youth Day and other visits to this country of St. John Paul II, I am more understanding of the temple chaos!

I remember one event when while the crowds were awaiting the arrival of St. John Paul hawkers walked among the crowd selling snacks, soft drinks, balloons, souvenirs and down behind the elevated altar, in front of rows of portable toilets, doing a brisk business, were, literally, money changer booths where visitors could exchange their currency for dollars!

It is precisely because Jesus found the chaos and cacophony, the selling and money changing, with all the shouting and disrespect for the sacred space, and disturbance of liturgy and private prayer caused by the chaos  - and surely we can see here something deeply emblematic of the chaos we choose within the sacred precincts of the temple of our own bodies and souls – that v.15- When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers money and overturned the tables.

Some scholars and pundits from the pulpit have tried to use the above to justify a type of so-called Christian righteous anger.

This is a deeply flawed understanding not only of the text but of Jesus Himself.

As Christians we must use love’s imagination when confronted with chaos, injustice, even hatred and violence without resorting to any form of verbal or actual destructive, violent action.

If we were as holy as Jesus, if our hearts were as pure as His, if we were indeed like Jesus complete masters of our emotions and our hearts……but we are not.

We are wounded, highly emotional sinners, called to love one another, turn the other cheek, do good to those who persecute us and pray for our enemies.

That is enough of a daily challenge, the cleansing of the temple of our own beings.

Perhaps, and I stress perhaps, when we have utterly accomplished that we may be holy enough to cleanse some other temple.

But for most of us that time is not yet!

v. 16 – And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”

I have yet to visit a shrine, place of pilgrimage, anywhere in the three nations which constitute North America where there are not hawkers and sellers, not only of religious items but often as well of snacks, candy, post cards and other items.

It is a persistent tension around sacred places, this tension between clearing as much of the space and the approaches of commercial activity and allowing people to make a living.

While we as pilgrims may not be able to resolve this tension we can at least, within our own choices, seek to avoid the commercial aspects as much as possible and remain fixed on the point of a shrine: a place to be a pilgrim seeking every deeper communion with the Holy Trinity, Our Blessed Mother, the particular Saint honoured in the shrine.

While we can accept within the sacred space of our parish church the necessity of the Sunday collection, I believe more care needs to be taken about pulpit announcements, given parishes have both print and online bulletins, extraneous collections, tickets sales, etc.

Within the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus, there is again a deep message, invitation even, regarding the temple of our own body, mind, will, heart, soul, remembering first and foremost the truth that as baptized disciples of Christ, persons confirmed by the Holy Spirit, nourished in Holy Communion by the glorious Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity of Christ Himself we are, and should always be aware we are:  …. a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? [1 Cor. 6:19]

We should not fear, rather eagerly ask of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit to, both through frequent sacramental confession and a constant grace of metanoia [conversion of heart] to be ever more cleansed, purified, sanctified:  not only ourselves but the entire Church, indeed to cry out always in prayer this grace be granted to all our brothers and sisters, the entire human family.