The Third Sunday of Lent ~ “My House shall be a house of prayer for all nations!

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT ~ JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE March 7, 2021

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT ~ JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE ~ March 7, 2021

Once again, I rely heavily on our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay for his insights for today’s reflections.  First of all, he notes that John after the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, Jesus and his friends returned for a short visit to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and shortly after that he set out for Jerusalem to observe the Passover feast.

This, Barclay observes, is quite interesting in John’s chronology of the life of Jesus is quite different from the other three gospels.  In them Jesus is depicted as going to Jerusalem only once—the Passover feast in which he was crucified, and his only visit to the holy city other than the one when he was a boy. But in John we find Jesus making frequent trips to Jerusalem, no fewer than three for Passovers. Barclay notes there’s no real contradiction—only different points of view.

Right at the beginning he shows us Jesus acting as God’s Messiah must act.  And he did. His anger is a terrifying thing. He formed a scourge out of cords and moved through those selling oxen and sheep and doves and the money changers sitting at their tables and drove them all out of temple and said, “Take these away and stop making my Father’s house a house of trade.”

The Passover was the greatest of all Jewish feasts. The law stated that every adult male who lived within fifteen miles of the holy city must attend. Now here are some facts that shaped Jesus’ anger. Astonishingly, it’s likely 2.25 million Jews sometimes assembled in Jerusalem in those days for Passover. And there was a tax that every Jew over 19 must pay—the Temple tax. It was one half shekel.  At that time, the  value of a half shekel was about 6 cents.  It was the equivalent of almost two days of  working man’s wages. In Palestine all kinds of currency were valid—from Greece and Egypt and Tyre and Sidon and Palestine.  But the Temple tax had to be paid The Jewish shekels; the foreign coins were considered unclean; they could be used to pay ordinary debts, but not debts to God.

So in the Temple courts sat the money-changers. If there trade had been straight forward, they would have been fulfilling an honest and necessary purpose.  But they charged to change the money and they charged get their change. The poor pilgrims couldn’t win.  The wealth that accrued from the Temple tax and from this and from this method of money-changing was—well—beyond belief.

It was estimated that the annual profit was about $100,000 for the Temple. And Barclay says that when Crasus captured Jerusalem in 54 B.C. he took from it $3,400,000 without coming near exhausting it.

What enraged Jesus was that pilgrims to the Passover who could ill afford it, were being fleeced at an exorbitant rate by the money-changers. It was a rampant and shameless social injustice—and what was worse it was being done in the name of religion.

Besides the money-changers, there were sellers of oxen and sheep and doves. Many pilgrims wanted to make a thank offering. Victims for the sacrifice could be bought in the temple court. But no. The law was that the animal had to be unblemished and, therefore, the Temple authorities set up appointed inspectors (muncheh) to examine the victims that were to be offered.  The fee was 1 cent. If the worshipper bought the animal outside the Temple, of course, it would be rejected. A pair of doves would cost about 4 cents outside but 75 cents inside.  Here again, was bare-faced extortion of the poor and humble pilgrims who, as Barclay says, were practically blackmailed into buying their victims in the Temple booths. It was that which moved Jesus into flaming anger.  St. Jerome thinks that the very sight of Jesus made the whip unnecessary. A certain fiery and starry light shone from his eyes and the majesty of the Godhead gleamed in his face.

Now, Barclay suggests there are at least three reasons why Jesus acted as he did.

First, God’s house—his Father’s house, as he said in John’s gospel—was being desecrated. In the Temple, there was worship without reverence. Worship without reverence can be a terrible thing.

When I attend Mass sometimes I find a priest who rushes through the Eucharistic Prayer in a distracted fashion—the most solemn part of the Mass, or who doesn’t say the words of Consecration reverently.  I ache inside for the priest, for myself and for the people who are not being edified.

Secondly, Jesus acted as he did to show that animal sacrifice and all that went into it was completely irrelevant.  For centuries the prophets were saying exactly that.  “Bring no more vain offerings” (Isaiah 1:11). “They love sacrifices; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them.” (Hosea 8:2:12-16).

Thirdly, the Temple authorities were making the Court of the Gentiles into an uproar and a rabble where no one could pray. The lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the cooing of the doves, the shouts of the hucksters, the jingling of the coins, the voices raised in bargaining disputes—all these combined to make the Court of the Gentiles a place where no one could worship. The conduct in the Temple court shut out the seeking Gentile from the presence of God. It may well be that this was most on Jesus’ mind. Jesus was moved to the depths of his heart because seeking pilgrims were being shut out from the presence of God. “Mark has Jesus say: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers   ” Mark 11:17).     pp.105 – 114.

Bishop Robert Barron:

 The most fundamental vocation of human beings is to give God right praise. In this act of adoration we become rigthtly ordered in ourselves. Accordingly sin is the suspension of right praise., a turning of the heart toward creatures rather than the Creator, which results in the disintegration of self and of society. All of the institutions of Israel—law, covenant, prophecy and Temple—were intended to bring the nation back in line to make Israel a priestly people.

Hence, the corruption of the Temple represented much more than simply an issue of social or institutional injustice. It was the compromising of the identity of Israel. Jesus comes to restore God’s holy people to right praise—and to turn inside out and upside down all forms of false worship. Thus, as you contemplate the image of Jesus cleansing the Temple, ask yourself the following question, “Precisely what or whom do I worship?”

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

 

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ Life-Surge ~ Stay connected

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ April 29, 2018

Jesus is so cool in the images he uses to communicate.

In the gospel passage today (John 15:1-8), Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches.” (You can read the entire passage below.)

Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay tells us that Jesus often uses images that are familiar to the people of his day that are part of their religious heritage.  Time and time again, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” Isaiah 5:1-7).  “Yet I planted you a choice vine,” says Jeremiah to Israel (Jeremiah 2:21).  Ezekiel, in turn, likens Israel to a vine in Chapter 15 and in 19:10.  “Israel is a luxuriant vine: said Hosea in 10:1.  “Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt,” they sang in Psalm 80 as they remembered their deliverance from Egypt.

One of the glories of the temple was the great golden vine in front of the Holy Place.  It was considered a great honor if you were rich enough to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a single grape to that vine.

Then Barclay gives us a bit of interesting exegesis.  Jesus calls himself the true vine.  The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine is this, he says:  “It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration.  The point of Isaiah’s picture is that vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into ‘degenerate and become a wild vine.’  It is as if Jesus said: ‘You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel that you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as the prophets saw.  It is I that am the true vine.” (Barclay / The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p. 173)

Now here are my own thoughts on today’s gospel.

Take a look at the image  above.  Every part of the vine, every grape, receives its life by being connected to the source of its life.

So, too, with us.  I have some readers who are not professed Christians.  But if you think about it, the message is the same:  If we stay connected to the Source of life, whatever that is for you, then our lives will flourish and bear fruit.

But some of us are like withered branches.  We have cut ourselves off from the source of life and we do not bring fruitfulness into our lives.

The following commentary I excerpted from the Magnificat liturgical magazine . . . .

He [Jesus’ Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (15:2)

In pruning, the vines were cut back so severely that they gave the appearance of lifeless stalks. When have you felt like that in your life? Did God ever generate new life from what seemed lifeless?

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that if we are bent on “diverse and trifling things,” our power is weakened and rendered less effective in doing good. And thus, God, to make us productive to do good often sends us trials and temptations, which if we overcome, we become stronger in doing good.

You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (15:3)

Think of how you were changed and made better by a word someone spoke to you: a word of forgiveness, of correction, of insight, of encouragement, of love

Here’s Aquinas again: “The Word of God by its power moves our hearts, weighed down by earthly things, and sets them on fire.

Another medieval Scholar, Cornelius a Lapide, says: “Christ pruned the Apostles of their ignorance, a certain vain confidence, an over-reliance on sensible (physical) presence of Christ, and from faint-heartedness, which made them almost despair of their own salvation now that Christ was departing.”

Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me. (15:4)

Of all the things our Lord could ask the night before he dies, he commands only this, “Remain in me”—the simplest thing of all.

            ~ Magnificat liturgical magazine / April 2018 ~ pp. 411-2

Take a few moments to consider the fruitfulness of your relationships.  Are the people in your life growing because they know you and are in your life?  Or are they withering up?

Stay connected.  Stay connected with your family, your friends, the people you love and the people who love and care about you.

We want to be connected to the Internet, on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and other social media.  But those connections are most often superficial.

What about connections of the heart?  The ones that really matter.

What about your connection with the earth and the environment and with the creatures who share this world with you?  Or does the world revolve only around you?

What about your connection with God and his desire that the whole church, indeed the whole world be connected in love.

Now here’s my prayer . . . .

Jesus, you use simple images to help us understand

what life for us can be like when we stay connected to You.

Wonderful life-surging energy flows through You as the Vine.

Let that same life-surging energy which is Your Holy Spirit

surge through us as well

and renew the face of the earth!

To You be glory now and forever! 

CHRIST IS RISEN!

Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in Me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples.” (John 15:1-8)

And now, before you go, here’s a song for your reflection on your relationship with Jesus. Click here.

And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer  

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition  / Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 p. 173.