Spring cleaning: this is a time we clear our yards, grills, cars, houses. Maybe we’re even ready to clear out our dorm rooms after a long winter with the windows closed. The first fresh air of spring is an excellent time to clear our personal space as well as clear our minds. Time to be ready for new growth.
Looking at today’s Gospel reading, there are some perplexing things. Jesus drives the merchants out of the Temple, and by our standards, we really don’t want places of prayer becoming mini-malls (or at least we shouldn’t). Sure, some places have great gift stores, but to have it right there and to be selling stuff you need for worship that day appears to be exploitation. However, the other side of the story is interesting. The Temple took collections of money and sacrificed animals. There were a lot of different kinds of coins floating around out there, and the Temple would only take coins minted in Tyre as cash offerings, so moneychangers were needed to change your local cash into something the Temple would take. Likewise, following Leviticus, the quality of the animals used in sacrifices was very high, and if you brought your own animal down from Galilee you might find it had some kind of blemish or imperfection and they might not take it. Much better to bring cash and buy an animal that you’re sure that the Temple would take, much safer. Aren’t you glad we don’t do business like that anymore? So why is Jesus chasing out people who need to be there, and who serve a greater good?
One way to look at this whole story is a foreshadowing of what is to come. People won’t need cash or animals for sacrifice anymore: Jesus will take their place, Jesus will be the one to will offer himself up once and for all time as sacrifice for all. The Jewish people could only do Temple worship in one place: on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Nobody was permitted to build a branch Temple (at one time they did), and when the Temple was gone the reaction wasn’t to build a new one elsewhere but to do without. The Temple took forty-six years to build for many reasons: it was a huge project that cost amazing sums of money, and since there wasn’t a lot of credit out there they had to pay as they went. In fact, in Jesus’ time the Temple wasn’t completed yet: it wouldn’t be for thirty years after his death and just before the Romans destroyed it.
So Jesus was plainly talking about himself when he talked about being raised from the dead. What was he up to when he cleansed the Temple?
As we go through Lent, we are called to do a spring housecleaning. We are called to give up all those little businesses that may have set themselves up in our faith: self-righteousness, pride, the need to be in control. There are many things that can attach themselves to our belief and act as if they’re part of the core of what we believe.
But as Jesus’ went through the Temple driving out those who weren’t needed anymore, we are called to look at ourselves and what is at the core of our faith: Jesus. Everything we say, everything we do, is our response to Jesus reaching out to us is how we live our faith. Everything that doesn’t lead us to Christ drains our strength and diverts us from our goal: to respond with praise and thanks for the wonders our God has done.
We come together today to share a meal. We come together today to gain strength for the journey. We come together today to encounter God in Christ, who is a gift to all of us. We don’t have to stop on the way in to change our cash. We don’t have to buy an approved animal for the sacrifice, and we don’t have to put on superficial religiosity in order to make an offering in spirit and truth. We are called to recognize that the best offering our God can ask is ourselves, just as we are. It is when we can be comfortable with offering ourselves, as imperfect as we are, in all humility, that we find the love of our God working through us. Christ makes us a new creation every time we let Him in.