Lent is a special time of searching the contents of our hearts and souls, a time of self-examination, repentance, fasting and self-denial. As we enter into our third week of Lent, the Gospel of John challenges us to dig deeper and further.
Today’s passage brings us face to face with a Jesus that’s sometimes hard to imagine. This is a Jesus who’s angry. He’s fed up! We would often like to think of him as calm, wise, gentle and loving. But in today’s gospel, Jesus unleashes his anger on the moneylenders and animal vendors in the Temple. His anger is not just confined to verbal confrontation but is expressed in a physical and even violent manner, overturning the tables, vandalising the tools of trade and collections of these merchants, and even physically with a whip.
To describe this behaviour as disturbing is an understatement. Many of us people would think it is scandalous. But what’s the point here? What do we make of this? Why was Jesus so angry? And how does this passage speak to us today?
So many questions that we might want to ask when encountering this gospel story. The Gospel of John doesn’t really make it clear as to why Jesus was so upset. The other synoptic gospels suggest that the merchants were taking advantage of the pilgrims, but John does not include this information in his story.
Perhaps John’s intention is not so much on the reason why Jesus is so angry, but rather his interest is to draw us to a radical message through his actions and words: that Jesus is replacing the physical Temple building with the Temple of his Body.
Amazingly, this is a remarkable reversal in the theology of sacrifice which is foreshadowed in this story, Jesus says to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
For the ancient Jews, the Temple is the place where God is present and worshiped and where Jews come and offer sacrifices to God to atone their sins. The irony in this story is, when Jesus is talking to the temple priests, God is fully present in the person standing in front of them. Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He is referring to his pending death and resurrection. His death, remember, is for the atonement of our sins, and here is the reversal.
It is no longer we who sacrifice animals to God for the atonement of our sins. It is rather God who now sacrifices Himself for us and the sake of our salvation. Indeed, Jesus gives us his very body and blood in the Eucharist to nourish us, sustain us, and save us.
All that is asked from our part is to offer ourselves to him in return, to offer a conversion of heart, and to demonstrate this conversion in the way we love God and neighbour. This is far more pleasing to God than burnt offerings.
Lent is an opportunity for each of us to grow spiritually, to grow closer to Jesus in every facet of our life. We are therefore invited to take a moment and reflect on what needs to be purified in the temple of our souls so to prepare our hearts for Easter joy.
Have a blessed weekend, Fr Dang.