8 March 2015
Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
His Grace Archbishop Petar Rajič
During his public ministry, our Lord Jesus had his moments of justifiable anger and one of them has been presented today in the gospel passage. It might appear strange that Jesus got angry at all, but the event in the temple of Jerusalem clearly merited an anger which was actually a demonstration of Jesus’ love for God’s house, the temple and his desire that true worship be offered in it.
Money exchange instead of reverence. Jesus was angry because God’s house was being desecrated by moneychangers and merchants. Many pilgrims who came to Jerusalem from other parts of the world brought their own currencies with them and therefore had to exchange them for the local shekel. All this was going on within the temple and pilgrims were also being taxed unfairly for their contributions which put an extra burden on them. Meanwhile, the moneychangers themselves were making great profits out of the activity – all in the name of religion. There was no room for reverence in the temple anymore, which is what angered Jesus the most. What he saw was formal worship offered without any reverence for God. He had to get angry. Though today we do not have money-exchange offices within our churches, we must always try our best to worship well, by concentrating our efforts on God and avoiding formalities. True worship can only come from a pure and free heart that is not cluttered with worries about money and our material existence. Worship is also never limited only to Sunday Mass when we are gathered as a community, but can always be offered at any place where we can take time off for personal prayer. Part of our worship is shown in keeping the Ten Commandments, which are best understood as God’s words to live by, and by leading good Christian lives according to the teachings of Christ.
Animal sacrifices instead of worship. The practice of offering animals as burnt offerings to God was still going on in the temple of Jerusalem during Jesus’ time. Jesus came to abolish this practice and to show people a new way to God, which excluded animal sacrifices and involved the active participation of people. Jesus showed that animal sacrifices were irrelevant and that the only true sacrifice that one can offer to God was the one offered from the heart. We must always work on avoiding false and useless worship. The Church gives us certain rules and obligations in our religious duties, such as going to church on Sundays and feast days, making a confession at least once a year, fasting and abstaining from meat on required days, yet we must avoid a type of religious observance which leads us to seek the requirements of law instead of willingly offering everything we do as our sacrifice of love to God.
Division instead of unity. The internal organization of the temple in Jerusalem was divided and excluded people. The temple was organized into various chambers. There was the first chamber of the gentiles – the non Jews, the second chamber for women, the third chamber for men and the fourth which was exclusively reserved for the priests. Due to these divisions within the temple itself, some were physically excluded from active participation in worship. People were divided according to sex, religion or rank, which did not suit Jesus at all. In our community worship we can never behave in a way which would exclude or limit others from entering our parishes or any of our masses.
God’s house of prayer. All this emphasis on the temple of Jerusalem brings us to a discussion of God’s new temple in the world. Jesus looked towards the end of the temple by giving us a new way to come to God without so much human elaboration and ritual. His anger reminds us of the words of the psalmist My temple shall be a house of prayer. The first and foremost importance of the temple is its function as a place for communal prayer. It is in this very temple, where men and women can know the presence of the living God and we are invited to discover our own inner temple, which is where God prefers to reside. By examining ourselves, our hearts and minds, and seeking to pray to our heavenly Father from our hearts, we come into direct contact with our Creator and Father. We are therefore living temples of the living God. Our God is with us always, in every activity we do no matter how small it may be, He is constantly with us in order to participate in and enrich our lives with His presence. Let us offer God the true worship He deserves, through our lives and our efforts to adhere to His commandments, listen to His Son Jesus and follow Him with our lives.
God raises up and rebuilds. Further on in this passage Jesus mentions how when people destroy his temple he shall raise it up in three days. Those who heard him speak were mystified by his words for they were thinking of the huge temple in Jerusalem which took 46 years to complete. Yet Jesus was referring to his body and his future death and resurrection. Jesus became the victor of death by willingly accepting the destruction of his body, his own temple and then rising from the dead. In this, we see that the work of God is to raise up again, to rebuild and to resurrect.
Cleansing our own temple. We humans are very good at destroying things, whether they be friendships, relationships, marriages, nature around us and the very structures that we ourselves build. Just look at how many movies present us with all sorts of destruction, from family and marital bonds, to the destruction of cars, buildings and even human lives. We are constantly being fed this as if this were the only activity we are capable of doing. At the root of all this destruction and evil is human sin. However, as believers in God, who is the Creator and Father of all, we know and believe that despite all the destruction in the world, all of our personal failures and limitations, it is the Lord who lifts us up. It is he, and only he who through his merciful forgiveness raises us up, rebuilds and resurrects our lives, when we approach him with faith and offer ourselves up to him in humility and sincerity. Here we come to the realization that our contact with God, our entry into his presence, our approach to him is not dependent on anything that human hands can build or minds devise. In the street, in the home, at school, at business, on the hills, on the open road, while flying in a airplane or praying in church, we have our inner temple, the presence of the Risen Christ forever with us throughout the entire world.