05 Mar Third Sunday in Lent
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit working through those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
We have the very dramatic gospel scene of Jesus Cleansing the Temple. He takes a whip made of cords and overturns tables and drives the money changers and livestock out of the temple. The temple for Old Testament Jews was everything. It was the economic and political and religious centre of life. But more even than this the temple was seen as the very dwelling place of God on earth. We hear this in the psalms often: “though the entire earth belongs to Yahweh, the Lord, He has chosen Zion as his special place.” Psalm 132:13) When the psalmist says Zion it means the temple. “Here I have chosen to dwell” (Psalm 132:14) God says in the psalms. The temple is the place where heaven and earth met: where the Garden of Eden was re-established: where the harmony between divinity and humanity was restored. All of this is what the Temple was in principle, what it was supposed to be. However, for centuries and centuries throughout the Old Testament the prophets reminded the people constantly that the temple and its rituals had been perverted, corruption had crept into this place of prayer and that even false gods were worshipped there. That tension runs through the whole of the Old Testament; how wonderful the temple is but how compromised by corruption. And this is why one of the great expectations when the Messiah came was that the anointed one would cleanse and purify the temple in Jerusalem. It was a big part of the job description of the Messiah. So we see Jesus cleansing the temple in our gospel today. By this very action Jesus is stating He is the Messiah. The Messiah who is trying to return the temple once more into a place of prayer, what it was meant to be.
When pressed for a sign, Jesus said that he would tear the Temple down and rebuild it in three days. He was talking, as John tells us, of the temple of his body. He was saying that the old Temple, which had served its purpose relatively well, would now give way to a new and definitive Temple. His own body, his own person, would be the place where divinity and humanity meet, and hence the place of right praise.
Keep that image of Jesus cleansing the temple and his declaration that the new, definitive place where divinity and humanity meet is his own Body clearly in your mind as we take one step further. St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “ 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) St. Paul as a young man lived in Jerusalem for many years studying the traditions of his fathers. He knew the rituals of the temple very well. He tells his readers something foundational. Paul tells us our bodies are now the temples of the Holy Spirit. That is not just a superficial remark…It is coming from someone who knew fully what it meant to be temple. What St. Paul is saying is that the true dwelling place of God is now no longer the temple in Jerusalem, it’s in the very bodies of the followers of Jesus. It is a pivotal idea in the New Testament. That’s why he says in Romans that you should make your bodies a living sacrifice. (Romans 12:1) In other words your body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Your body, your very self is the place where divinity and humanity are meant now to come together. This is a really basic idea in Christianity. Take this insight of Paul together with the image of Jesus cleansing of the temple and we have a wonderful starting point for a good Lenten Meditation.
If your life, your body, yourself, is meant to be a place where God is praised. Then every aspect of your life is meant to be turned to the Lord. It’s meant to be dedicated to him. It’s meant to be a sacrifice, an offering to the Lord: your mind, your will, your heart, your body, your sexuality, your family life, your friendships, your work, your studies, your entertainment. Everything is meant to be a living sacrifice of praise unto the Lord.
What if you allowed Jesus, with that whip of cords that we hear about in today’s gospel to enter into the temple of your body right now? What would happen? That’s our Lenten meditation today.
Think of the cleansing of the temple of your body as a sort of house cleaning. Lent is a time for a cleansing of the soul. Let Jesus loose in the temple of your body. Let him swing that whip of cords around. The things that shouldn’t be there: let him knock them over. See the mess he makes in the temple which stirred up everyone is like the mess he makes in us when we allow him in as a cleansing and purifying power.
Whatever in you right now that is not dedicated to God needs to be reformed, needs to be turned over.
The next step? Our first reading gives us a very helpful guide to do this searching moral inventory of our soul. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the Ten Commandments correspond to the fundamental principles of the natural law. That just means those ten moral imperatives are planted deep within our souls as God has created us to be. In a way, we know the 10 Commandments instinctually.
Let’s take a quick walk through the 10 commandments and see how we are doing on the inside.
The First commandment: I am the Lord your God. You shall not have false gods before me. This commandment deals with the most basic sin. That is why it is the lengthiest and most developed. The most basic sin is idolatry: which means turning something less than God into God. It is the most fundamental sin: the pursuit of honour, power, privilege, celebrity, my own ego… If there is something I am worshipping that is not God that is what needs to be cleansed because that is the fundamental problem. Am I able to say the Lord is the God of all aspects of my life?
Second commandment, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. This commandment has to do with speech about God. God’s name should always be a blessing, never a curse. The ancient Jews held God’s name so sacred that they never spoke it aloud. They would never say “Yahweh.”…always changing it to Adonai, the Hebrew word that translate as Lord. That is why we use Lord to address God in the Mass. Following the ancient practice of our Jewish ancestors.
Third commandment has to do with keeping the Sabbath holy. You are obviously keeping this commandment by being here today and I commend you for that. Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, should be a day of worship, a day of rest, a day of more prayer and spiritual study, and a day of family.
The fourth commandment regards honouring our father and mother. This commandment has to do with family integrity. How your family life is a key moral concern. Do you as a family honour God together? We come together as a parish family to honour and praise God. Do you take that home with into your family, praying together, especially before and after meals, arranging outings or vacations around your spiritual life and not vice versa.
The fifth commandment has to do with murder. Thou shalt not kill. All life is sacred from its natural beginning to its natural end. God’s to give and God’s to take away. That is why the Church has always from the beginning taught that abortion and euthanasia and assisted suicide are always wrong. On an interpersonal level: are we life givers or life takers? Do I tend to drain people of life or to give life?
The sixth commandment: you shall not commit adultery. This is of particular relevance today. Our sexuality, the committed, intimate relationship between a married man and woman is very sacred. So sacred it needs the container of marriage for it to fully flourish. It has been coarsened in modern society with things like pornography, abuse of women, sexual abuse of children. This commandment clearly proclaims that our sexuality is sacred and should not be less than what God has intended it to be.
The seventh commandment: you shall not steal: simply meaning taking what does not belong to you. St. Thomas Aquinas said that gossiping is stealing another person’s reputation.
The eighth commandment: don’t bear false witness against your neighbour. How we love to do this. How we love to drag other people down. If we can’t do it by saying true things, we will do it with false things. Here’s a question for all of us: could any of us go even one day without saying something negative about someone else? There’s a Lenten challenge. Fast from bearing false witness. Let the Lord swing that whip of cords around.
The last two commandments can be read together: Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s goods and thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife or male or female slave or possessions. Coveting, desiring, looking at what the other person has. It is such a prevalent thing. It is also such a waste of time. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. Rather, we should compare ourselves to what we were yesterday. In other words are we making progress? Am I becoming the person God intended me to be?
That’s a very quick run through the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes form the outline of the Examination of Conscience that was distributed at the beginning of Lent and are at all the doors of the Cathedral. Take one home with you if you haven’t already and prayerfully sit with it this week and imagine Jesus in the temple of your soul doing some serious house cleaning.