Putting ourselves on the line

By: By Barbara Roedel

Third Sunday of Lent, March 15

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19:8,9,10,11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25. (When the First Scrutiny is celebrated, these readings may be used: Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42)

Last week the disciples got a peek at who Jesus was and what he was about in the transfiguration. The church authorities did not have the experience the disciples had on the mountaintop; and in today’s Gospel, they are perplexed at Jesus’ anger and his actions in the temple.

The temple was where the Jews sacrificed animals in exchange for God’s forgiveness and granting of prayer requests. The sacrificed animals were believed to be a mediator between God and the worshiper. The worshiper sacrificed an animal and God in turn granted forgiveness. The law required sacrificial animals to be in perfect condition; therefore the ox, sheep or pigeon had to be bought from a temple merchant.

Prices inside the temple were exorbitant. The marketplace mentality in the temple had degenerated into little more than bargaining and deal making — I give you this and in turn God gives me what I want. It went against the spirit of the law and Jesus angrily lashed out against the perpetrators by turning over tables, chasing out the animals, and ordering the merchants out of the temple.

The worshipers did not understand the unconditional nature of God and that no gift of grace can be marketed. God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy cannot be bought, bartered, or bribed. No negotiated deals are needed to make amends with God or to gain divine favor. Pure and simple, God’s gifts are free.

The church establishment questioned Jesus’ authority for such a disturbance and asked for a sign. His answer equally confused them: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The authorities could not understand Jesus’ response since they took literally what was meant symbolically. Jesus was foretelling his death and resurrection; but they were incapable of understanding the spiritual revelation he had just announced. Namely, God dwells in the person of Jesus not in a building.

The temple authorities were scandalized by Jesus’ words and actions. They did not understand Jesus was defending “his Father’s house” from being desecrated. Later charges of hostility against the temple were levied against him at his trial before Pontius Pilate. This confrontation gives us a glimpse of why Jesus was crucified.

How does this Gospel translate to us today? Do our lives reveal our beliefs? Have you stood up for something that you very much believed in knowing you would suffer consequences for your actions?

Several years ago, while making a retreat, the speaker challenged us to reflect on if we were accused in a court of law of being a Christian, would we be convicted? Many people are not comfortable taking risks and speaking up for an end to war, advocating for basic human rights for the poor and the vulnerable, or peacefully demonstrating against abortion. Putting ourselves on the line and practicing love of others at our own cost is at the heart of who Jesus is and who we are called to be.

We are called to be faithful to God’s love. In our self-giving actions, we stand with Jesus. Our sacrificial gift is a humble and contrite heart.

Barbara Roedel is the pastoral associate at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.

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