Cleansing the Temple
3rd Sunday of Lent (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

The word “cool” has remained in popular usage even after many years. In the 1960’s when we were students our common expression was “Cool, man .” To be “cool” could mean many things. It could mean being unflappable even under pressure. It could also refer to what is fashionable, as in “cool threads.” As a verb it could mean “back off, take it easy” as in “cool it”. A person who is cool maintains a quiet dignity and serenity even if things seem to be falling apart around him. He is like the James Bond character who manages to look well and unruffled even when being shot at or winning a million dollars at the roulette table.

Action starter: Review the Ten Commandments.

We try to be cool most of the time. There are times though when we lose our cool. Then, the unexpected behavior comes up. We raise our voice, we kick the furniture (hopefully, not people), or throw articles out of the window. One comical skit I don’t tire seeing is where the husband loses his cool and shouts at his wife, who scolds the son, who kicks the dog, which runs after the cat, which chases the rat in turn, until finally, the rat bites the husband who started it all.

What makes us lose our cool? We may fly off the handle when we are personally hurt, when somebody we love is being hurt, or something we care deeply about is not respected. I was with one bishop who lost his cool in the city of Rome. He was asking about the price of some souvenir items and the storeowner said something in an arrogant manner. His Excellency left quietly, seething inside. When I met him outside the door, he was still boiling and declared to me, “I should not let that pass. I should not tolerate his rudeness to people.” He suddenly turned around and went back in, and digging from his resources of Italian vocabulary as a Roman student, let loose with a torrent of words at the storeowner. He was cool when I met him at the door. He had done his duty and that was it.

In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus did something seemingly out of character. He cleansed the temple. He who was gentle with children, patient with his disciples, and who preached about love and forgiveness, got very angry. “And making a whip of chords, he drove them all with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (Jn. 2:15).” He was angry at the merchants and the money changers for disrespecting the temple, “Take these things away, you shall not make my father’s house a house of trade (v. 16).” If in the Transfiguration scene last Sunday his Divine face was revealed, in this temple scene divine anger was shown.

Some biblical commentaries speak of the racket going on in the temple. The moneychangers were there because only the official temple coins were allowed in the purchase of the offerings. The worshippers came from various parts of the known world. There were merchants who sold animals such as sheep and oxen to be offered as a sacrifice. The poor may offer pigeons. Some kind of monopoly was being practiced so that only the “certified” animals and doves may be legitimately offered. One is therefore forced to buy these from the merchants who were in the good graces of the temple officials. This commercialization of the temple made Jesus angry.

There were different spaces or courtyards in the temple area and some places were more sacred than the others. There was a court for the Gentiles, court for women, for the Israelites, for the priests, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies . The merchants and the money changers were in their usual places in the temple peripheries. What made Jesus angry were the unseen machinations and deals made in the name of worship. What was actually being worshipped was money, instead of God. This breaks the first commandment (first reading), “You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:3).”

Like the people of Jesus’ time, we can be blind to obvious breaking of God’s commandments. For example, the second commandment is broken countless number of times in TV episodes or movies we see, “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God in vain (Ex. 20:7).” Just this month, there was international furor over blasphemous portrayal of what is sacred in a religious tradition. We should be more sensitive to what is sacred in our own practices and beliefs, as well as in that of others. During this season of Lent, we can ask ourselves: “If the Lord Jesus were to come among us today, what would be the object of His wrath? What would He cleanse?”