Scripture Readings: Exodus 20:1-17; First Corinthians 1:22-25; Matthew 2:13-25
This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the “cleansing of the Jerusalem temple” by Jesus, as it is usually called. This cleansing took place at the approach of Pasch, the annual Passover celebration, which recounts God’s people coming forth from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. This took place some one thousand two-hundred years before the coming of Christ.
The temple-market in the court of the Gentiles, as well as the money exchange tables, were meant for the benefit of the many pilgrims who would come to Jerusalem for Passover. Jesus, wishing to see the temple as something other than a market-place, sought to drive out the sellers and exchangers. “Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace,” Jesus said.
By his words and actions in the temple, Jesus showed the intimate relationship between God and himself. Jesus’ action that day recalls the concluding words of the prophet Zechariah regarding the “day of the Lord.” The prophet writes: “There shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day” (Zechariah 14:20).
In recounting the cleansing of the temple, the Gospel writer Saint John does not describe the reaction of the merchants and money-changers at the temple. John mentions the impression of the disciples, though, when they understood the danger which Jesus’ action implied. As they saw it, the zeal of Jesus for God’s house might well cost Jesus his life.
Jesus’ action at the temple is not simply a protest against irreverence for God’s house or for the corruption of Jewish worship. In fact, the conflict that arises with the temple authorities becomes an opportunity for Jesus to reveal his identity as Messiah.
Jesus is asked by what authority he is interfering in the management of the temple. The authorities want a sign, a miracle, which would prove that Jesus has been entrusted with authority from God. But they actually presumed that no sign would be given, that Jesus might be condemned.
Jesus ignores the question asked and says, let the temple be destroyed, referring to himself, and in three days see it raised up again. With these words Jesus indicates that he is a prophet and God’s anointed.
Jesus implies here that he is the builder of another temple, one that will endure forever, not built of stones, but of living stones, people under the benevolent watch and care of God, the Eternal Maker of all that is. Those hearing Jesus misunderstood his statement and presumed he was merely referring to the physical temple in Jerusalem. As such, they ridicule Jesus’ answer.
The closest followers of Jesus did not see the full import of the temple episode either. The Gospel says, “Only after Jesus had been raised from the dead did his disciples recall that he had said this, and come to believe the Scripture and the word he had spoken” (John 2:22).
In the cleansing of the temple, Jesus announced the destruction of the temple, representing the present order, and the inauguration of a new order, with a spiritual temple, his own risen body, as the reference point. In other words, the new order, God’s Reign, is solidly based on the resurrection of Christ, who paid with his death the price of his zeal for God’s house. Jesus’ glorified body becomes the eternal Spiritual Temple of the new economy, taking the place and function of the material temple of old.
Looking at the other two Scripture readings for this Sunday, in the Book of Exodus passage, God introduces himself as “Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Earlier God had told Moses to remind the people that “You have seen with your own eyes what I did to Egypt and how I have carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you here to me” (Exodus 19:3).
The point is clear: there is one loving redeemer of God’s people, who gives further proof of that love in the “Ten Words,” or commandments. By the Ten Commandments, which may sound like prohibitions or limitations, God is proclaiming influence and even right over the totality of Israel’s life. Taking these people to himself, God sets down a specific pattern of behavior for the people to embrace and follow as an acceptable response to God’s love for them.
The Ten Commandments, often called the Decalogue, showed Israel the way to live her relationship to God. The Decalogue is intended to bring Israel spiritual prosperity and true life under God’s watchful care. To obey the Decalogue was and is to be understood as something pleasing to God, and to disobey the commandments, an offense to God.
Jesus accepts the validity of the Ten Commandments and sums up the whole of the Law and the prophets in the great double commandment of love of God and of neighbor (Mark 12:29 and following).
In this Sunday’s short reading from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul proclaims a crucified Savior. What appears weak and stupid, Paul says, is in fact the supreme strength wisdom, because it is “God’s foolishness and God’s weakness.”
In other words, God has chosen to confound peoples’ spiritual pride and blindness by what may look foolish and weak in the eyes of humans. It could also be understood thus: God’s wisdom “at its lowest,” so to speak, and God’s strength “at its weakest,” is still immensely wiser and stronger than any human wisdom and power. That is the nature of God’s infinite wisdom and strength.
This is a great mystery and one that we should never tire of pondering as we contemplate God’s goodness, power, love and nearness to us all.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB