What Are Temples For?
3rd Sunday of Lent (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Shrines, temples, sanctuaries and churches attract business. In the Philippines, there is always the problem of vendors in the church premises. Just like any tourist spot, famous churches have souvenir shops in its environs. Sometimes as part of fiesta celebrations, the church compound hosts trade fairs. This practice harks back to medieval times when churches were centers not only of religious activities but also of entertainment and business as well. The gospel reading this Sunday may help us reflect on such practices.

Action starter: Has money taken God’s place?

That Jesus cleansed the temple is an event recorded by all the four gospels, indicating its being a historical fact. The synoptic authors placed the incident at the end of the public ministry just before the crucifixion, while John’s gospel which we read today placed it at the beginning.

The temple in Jerusalem was built by Herod about twenty years before the Lord Jesus was born . It was a center of Jewish religious life and pilgrims would come even from outside Israel, hence the need for money changers. There were a succession of courtyards leading to the inner precincts where only the priests were allowed. The outermost courtyard was also called the court of the gentiles. There, animals needed for sacrifice were for sale, as it was more convenient for pilgrims to buy them at the site than to bring them over far distances. The richer ones may offer cattle and sheep while the poor may offer pigeons (Jn. 2:15-16).

As Jesus cleansed the temple with great indignation, He said, “Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market” (v. 17). Luke, Mark and Matthew would use harsher words, referring to the market as “den of thieves”. Bible scholars describe some of the unsavory practices happening in the temple precints. There were profiteering, monopolies, and corruption. The pilgrims had little choice but buy from unscrupulous dealers. Temple authorities got their share of the business. The temple was being used for activities other than worship. We are not talking of the inner courtyards. These were happening in the outer courtyard like our very own church compounds for the general public. Yet, Jesus was angered.

What are temples for? Or for that matter, what are churches for? Jesus gave the answer, “my house is a house of prayer” (Lk. 19:46). A temple or a church is a house of prayer. It is a meeting place between for God and his people, Such encounters may be mediated by persons such as priests, or by sacred objects such as icons. The encounter may be facilitated by rituals and ceremonies. The meeting may have the quiet simplicity of a heart to heart conversation.

Worship is not only an individual affair. It is also a community activity. Wherever people come together to pray as a community, they also become engaged in conversations about their day to day concerns. Places of worshjip also become venues for meetings, teaching and decision-making. As often happens, wherever there are gatherings, business takes place. The lesson of the gospel is that business activities must have their proper places and must observe ethical considerations of justice and charity.

All our activities are to be done in the light of the first commandment (first reading), “You shall have no gods, except me” (Ex. 20:3). All other c ommandments follow from this. I venture to say that what made Jesus angry was the worship of money in God’s own house.

Such worship of money is related to the present modern temptations of materialism, sensualism, and consumerism. These are the worship of things, pleasures, and commodities.

This idolatry angers God.

This Lenten season is a time to do our own temple cleansing. St. Paul refers to ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit. What in our own life draws us away from God?