6th/7th March 2021

posted 8 Mar 2021, 04:36 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B (6 & 7/3/21)

The Cleansing of the Temple: is it true to say that Our Lord lost His rag with them and kicked them all out? Jewish society in the first century AD was not England in the twenty-first century, and it’s probably true to say that they were maybe a bit more expressive of their emotions than we are, which would include anger. But if we limit it just to a display of anger then we miss a few important points. Our Lord was not just any ordinary human being, prone to fits of anger and losing self-control. If you’ve seen any of the Don Camillo films, He was not like the priest Don Camillo, who occasionally ends up in fisticuffs when he is taunted or mocked. So what was going on in the Temple?

“ ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ … ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ ” The Temple sacrifices prefigured the offering of Jesus, once and for all, on the Cross. Following the Crucifixion, there will be no need for any more Temple sacrifices. In a sense, driving out the money-changers, cattle, sheep and pigeons was prophetic of that fact that all of this was going to come to an end. These sacrifices will be brought to fulfilment, and when that is the case, then there is no need for any more sacrifices for sin.

Secondly, there was the great love of God the Son for God the Father, and the absolute insistence that the Temple should be treated with respect as a place of prayer and a place free from sin. The money-changers, cattle, sheep and pigeons were there for a reason: the Temple was a place where burnt offerings were made to God, and so the people, when they came to the Temple, had to have an offering to give to the priest to be burnt upon the altar. The Holy Land was under Roman occupation, and the Romans were pagans. So as part of the idea of the purity of the Temple, people were not allowed to spend Roman denarii or Greek drachmas, because they had the image of a pagan ruler on them. They had to change them first for Jewish money, shekels, and then use those to pay for an offering. Perhaps the exchange rate might have been low, and/or the cattle, sheep and pigeons sub-standard. People might have been tempted to grumble at the cost, and thought that if they had brought one of their own animals or birds, then that would have been a much better offering to make than this poor quality thing they have just sold me. That could have been happening and part of the reason for Our Lord’s anger.

God is a jealous God. That means that He won’t share the position of God with anyone or anything else. We can’t be members of multiple different religions, and we cannot serve both God and money. Looking back at the first reading today, the first commandment is that you shall have no other gods except me, and it then follows on with not making any pagan idols and worshipping those. Then, later on, it says, “You shall not steal”. Should the Temple of God be a place where people’s hearts are more set on money, rather than the worship of God? Should the worship of God be a relatively unimportant by-product of the desire to make money? Having a piety shop in a church isn’t a problem, but if the Parish Priest is more interested in people buying diaries rather than taking part in the Mass, then we have a problem.

Of course, the temptation of the love of money isn’t just a snare for parish priests. It can affect everyone, and sometimes it is a bit more subtle than you might suspect.

Some years ago, I read the testimony of Maggie Moulton, who had been drawn to practice something called Transcendental Meditation. It presents itself as one thing, when in fact it is quite something else. Some might think of it as being a secular distillation of eastern thought and practice, but in reality, it leaves you open to the world of evil spirits. In the ceremony where you are given a mantra to recite, Maggie was given a special phrase. She had been told that it was merely a sound, used only on the level of sound, not meaning. But years later, whilst reading classic Hindu literature, she found her mantra, along with others she had memorised to give to other people she had taught. The mantra translated as “To the goddess of wealth, I bow down”. A chilling revelation. Thankfully, she turned away from Transcendental Meditation and turned towards a full living out of the Catholic faith, but it left its after-effects, and like an addict, she described being constantly tempted to go back, and having to make an effort and decision of the will to follow Christ instead.

As we reflect on our lives this Lent and prepare to make a good confession, perhaps the question we can ponder this Sunday is: what are the “false gods” in my life, that I allow to have priority over the Lord? And what should I be doing instead?