Becoming a Living Tabernacle
3rd Sunday of Lent

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Every Jew over the age of nineteen had to pay an annual temple tax that was the equivalent of about two days wages—a half-shekel. The temple tax, however, had to be paid in Galilean shekels, neither Roman, Greek, or Egyptian currency. The money changers were those who would change foreign currency into Galilean shekels, but they charged a commission for every half-shekel they changed. They also made a second charge on every half-shekel of change they had to give if a larger coin was offered. If someone came with a coin worth two shekels, he had to pay to get it changed, and again to get his change of three half-shekels. And so the money changers made the equivalent of one day’s wage.

Jewish literature permitted money changers to charge a commission, but what angered Jesus was that pilgrims to the Passover were being charged an excessively rate by the changers. Moreover, the animals sold in the temple court could cost as much as fifteen times higher than those sold outside the temple.

I recall the time I explained to my students that since Jesus was God the Son in the flesh, he could not really sin. They objected and pointed to today’s gospel as an example of a sin that Jesus committed. I’d ask them to point it out specifically, and they’d point to his anger. In their minds, anger was always and everywhere sinful.

But of course that is not the case at all. Jesus is God in the flesh, and so what we have here is a manifestation of the divine anger. Hence, anger in itself is not sinful. In fact, it is a basic human emotion, and essential part of our being, and so it is good. Suppressing an emotion like anger can cause greater problems down the road.

Anger that is ungoverned by reason is, indeed, disordered; for all the emotions have an innate need to be guided by human reason. But the emotions need to be affirmed, not suppressed. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that propensity to anger can be a sign of a certain excellence; for those indifferent to injustice rarely get angry. But if one truly loves justice, one will get angry at injustice. If you love somebody, like your children, you will get angry at them when you see them making choices that will ruin them down the road. Unfortunately, some parents don’t love their children enough to get angry with them.

But God is absolute love, and He is perfect justice. And so there is such a thing as the divine anger, and it is manifest right here in this gospel. And it is an anger that is rooted in a zeal for the Lord’s house that consumes him.

The Jews asked for a sign that he is the Messiah, because it was foretold that zeal for the Lord’s house would consume the Messiah and that the day he comes will be a day when there shall no longer be any merchant in the house of the Lord (Cf. Ps 69, 9; Zec 14, 21). The Jews interpret his violent action as a claim, namely, that he is the Messiah. And so they ask for a sign as evidence of his claim. He says to them: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

They did not quite understand his response; for he was referring to the temple of his own body, more specifically, his resurrection. Christ’s body is now the New Temple, and this Temple is not in any one nation, but in all nations. The Greek word for all nations is kataholike, from which is derived the word ‘Catholic’. The Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, spread out over the entire world.

As I was thinking about this, I wondered what action in this new temple would parallel the exploitation of the money changers and traders that would evoke the divine anger. Worshippers came to pay their debt to God, to pray and offer sacrifice, and certain others took advantage of this and made a fortune off of them. The money changers profaned the temple, turning it into a market for profit. They mixed their love for God with a love for the world. What would be the parallel? What would anger Jesus now?

The answer is the same thing: the profanation and desecration of the new Temple, the temple of his body, namely the Eucharist. Someone once asked me what Padre Pio said was the greatest sin of the twentieth century. Before I received an answer, I thought about it and figured it would have to be something like the bombing of Hiroshima, or one or all of the many genocides, or possibly abortion. But according to St. Padre Pio, the greatest sin of the twentieth century is the sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist, the deliberate reception of the Eucharist along with a refusal to renounce sin. Here, as in the Temple of Jerusalem, there is a divided heart: a love of sin brought right into temple court.

That is why regular confession is so important. What we do when we receive the sacrament of confession is we make ourselves a tabernacle capable to housing the Blessed Sacrament.

Consider what happens to a place in which is contained a tabernacle that houses the Blessed Sacrament. It becomes a sacred space. And it is so wonderful to have a sacred space in which to pray. One of my mental health patients downtown was telling me how wonderful he feels when he enters a Catholic Church where he can pray before the Blessed Sacrament. He says it brings him so much comfort and consolation. In fact, just sitting before the Blessed Sacrament is like sitting in the sun. It doesn’t seem like anything is happening, but the sun is shining upon you, and after a time, people are going to notice, they are going to see your beautiful tan. So too, just sitting before the Blessed Sacrament without saying a lot does more for your soul than you tend to realize.

But the interesting thing to consider is that when we make ourselves a fit tabernacle, through confession, in order to house the Eucharist, we are carrying a tabernacle with us wherever we go. We are that tabernacle, which contains Christ.

Now if we had a tabernacle in our arms, if our pastor asked us to bring it to such and such an address, another Church for example, there are certain places we wouldn’t bring it. We wouldn’t stop at a strip bar, and we’d keep it away from anyone who would profane it with foul language. That is why after we become Christ’s body in the Eucharist, we must be very careful where we carry ourselves. And we must be careful what it is we do with our own bodies, what we allow our eyes to see, our hands to touch, and our ears to hear. Our body is now Christ’s body. We must revere it, keep it unstained, pure, and completely given over to God.

But the most important thing to consider here is the great good we are doing for others when we revere the holiness of our own bodies that have become Christ’s body. If you become a living tabernacle, consider the good you are doing for others. As I said above, just sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament does more good than we can possibly conceive. If you and I become a living tabernacle—which we do upon receiving communion, not sacrilegiously, but properly—then we are bringing a tabernacle home with us. We’re bringing a living tabernacle to work with us. The people we work with don’t even know it, but they don’t have to know it in order to benefit. Christ is in their midst.

Your own family, perhaps many of them have turned their backs on the Church; but you are making your home a Church, and they don’t even know it. They are benefiting in ways that we cannot fully articulate. You don’t even have to say anything. You don’t have to preach, you don’t have to exhort, you don’t have to quote Scripture. You just have to be Christ in their midst. Be the host-life in their midst and you do more good for the world than you realize.

Because when these people relate to you, they are relating to Christ, and they don’t even know it. A genuinely good deed done to you is done to the host-life that you have become. You are giving them an opportunity to save their souls, and they don’t even know it. That’s why in the parable of the Last Judgment, the sheep on the right side of the king will reply: “When did we see you hungry and feed you, when did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink, or naked and clothe you, imprisoned and visit you?” They had no idea who it was they were serving. Many people today are going to do something good to you, for your sake, and perhaps it will be something small and apparently insignificant. But small and insignificant things become significant because you have become a living tabernacle housing the host-Christ. You have provided them with an opportunity to gain eternal life, and if they do so, as a result of some good deed done to you, they will thank you in the kingdom of heaven, but it will be a thank you that will endure forever, eternally, because heaven is forever, it is eternal. Amen.