Jesus came to usher in a new covenant
Third Sunday in Lent (L3B), March 15, 2009
By Fr. Orlando Sapuay, MS
SUNDAY READINGS (For use by RCIA)
“Making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple court, together with the oxen and sheep. He knocked over the tables of the money-changers, scattering the coins, and ordered the people selling doves, ‘Take all this away and stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!’”
Just when we thought we have started to figure Him out, all of a sudden Jesus demonstratres a behavior so uncharacteristic of him. Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus Looking around with anger? I haven’t. Such a picture would never become popular, but it would at least show that we were not restricting Jesus to being merely “nice’. ( Incidentally in middle English, I am told, meant “stupid”) . We better ask the question: “What was the cause of Jesus’ rampage?”
A lay theologian and former professor of mine explained it in the following manner. The Law prescribes the sacrifices of animals. This becomes the opportunity for people to establish a profitable business of selling right by the doorstep of the temple which makes it convenient for people and to supposedly assure that these animals were the right kind to be sacrificed since it was also prescribed that these animals had to be first born. The business was for profit of course. The law further prohibits the use of currency that bore the image of the Emperor.
This is the reason for the money-changers, again for profit. Everything was for the purpose of assisting those who come to worship since they come from far distances involving oftentimes days of travel. Lodgings and eateries must have proliferated as well. So what you have is a flourishing and progressive city because of the temple and the laws prescribe. I know what you are thinking. What’s wrong with all of that?
My professor would then sit back on his chair, pause, then continued. Profit usually leads to more profit. Consider, for example, the number of animals purchased and offered was so great that there was simply not enough time to actually sacrificed them all, so at the end of the day, some of the animals are kept behind the temple to be sacrificed the following day. However, somehow, these same animals find their way back to the front of the temple once again “for sale”. And the competition, bargaining and transacting………what a marketplace indeed! A whole lot of lying, pretending and deceiving in that marketplace.
We are still asking who got us into this financial mess. The blame game is still on. There is no shortage of explanations and the best ones enumerate a litany of culprits . But what is not being said loud enough is the humanity’s leaven of lies, pretensions and deceptions. No wonder we are told the answer is more spending. Pope Benedict XVI weighs in one the financial crisis; “It is not enough, as Jesus said, to put patches on an old suit”.
There is search for new ideas. We forget that even new wine needs new wineskins and not more wine for old wineskins. New wine will just intoxicate us to more lying, pretending and deceiving. This is for me, the mess we are actually in. I heared someone even went on to say, “There is nothing wrong with the wrongdoing, except for the hypocrisy that usually follows after. Any wrongdoing can be corrected; any sin forgiven but the hypocrisy denies one from correction and forgiveness”.
Luke calls this “yeast” (or leaven) of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) . It is a Greek word that meant acting a part in the stage. Then it came to mean pretence, especially pretence to virtue. Hypocrisy therefore is virtue that has nothing left but the external appearance of virtue. This may seem like nothing, but at least it is kind of twisted homage to virtue. You won’t find a better example of this than in Milton’s diatribe against the clergy in 1961. He raged against the “sour leaven of human traditions mixed in one putrefied mass with the poisonous dregs of hypocrisy in the hearts of prelates”. There is no mercy nor humility in this denunciations, and worst there is no suggestion of hope; but Jesus could say repeatedly “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!” Mt. 23: 13,15,23,25,27,29) and then sit down to table with them and even became friends with some of them. He held open the door of hope.
Someone else wrote that one ought “to mix a leaven of charity in one’s judgment”. Obviously, leaven has a positive meaning. Both of these meanings are found in scriptures. Luke speaks of the “leaven of the Pharisees”, but he also tells us that Jesus used leaven as an image of the kingdom of God (Lk 13:20).
How can we hold these opposite meanings together? Every person has a capacity for both good and evil; everything we use we can use for good or evil purposes. Consequently, every object we touch takes on associations of human goodness or evil, and even comes to symbolize them. Leaven signifies rapid growth but it also symbolizes corruption. Life experiences illustrate the truth of this everyday .
I suggest that the Lenten season is more about new wineskins than new wine. Anyway, we are told the old (aged) tastes better. Besides, it is God who will provide us the wine. There is all the difference in the world between buying/selling and giving/receiving. We sometimes catch ourselves trying to buy our way with God: promising more prayers, good works and pilgrimages, on condition that God will consent to give us something we want.
Meister Eckhart calls this “trading with God—merchandising”. We are not changed by it; we are conducting business rather than relating to God in a personal way. In fact, there is only one person involved: oneself. Giving and receiving, on the other hand, involve us in a personal way: there is a giver and a receiver; and things like generosity and gratitude have a place. At the end of it we are changed, made more human somehow. And the more human we are, the greater our capacity to be come true sons and daughters of God.
How often have we witnessed Taxi drivers returning large amounts of cash and important documents left by passengers and tourists. And for every story of swindlers and cheats, consider these for a moment. Someone placed an 18 karat-gold diamond ring in a Salvation Army kettle in union Town, Pa. A Sioux Falls, S.D., hotel manager came up with a plan to open his doors to 200 homeless people for Christmas. In Santa Clarita, California, a family took in an 83-year-old woman left homeless by wildfires and helped rebuild her life.
Jesus came to usher in a new covenant, a completely new way of life and a new way of worshipping God. The sacrifice of animals would be replaced by a new and perfect sacrifice , the sacrifice of the Lord Himself, the Lamb of God . the temple fashioned by men for the glory of God would be replaced by a new temple with the stone rejected by the builders serving as the cornerstone, Jesus dramatic actions at the temple in Jerusalem serve as his boldest public declaration thus far of the truth that would be uttered at calvary by the roman soldier, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.
The law(s) are not to tie us down. They are meant to bind us all together as one in covenant with God. And as baptized Christians, we are further given the wisdom of the cross that holds us together and binds us at our hearts at the place where our God and the rest of the world meets. Jesus is thus adamant that true worship of God is not ritualistic or merely liturgical but found in zeal for the honor of god in our lives.
The temple is not out there….. it is the “inner space…the sacred place”…… the sanctuary within us where God pitches His tent to welcome one and all , so as to celebrate His presence in, through and with one another.