From The American Bible Society:
March 11, 2012
Third Sunday of Lent
THE TEMPLE WAS JESUS’ BODY
John 2:13-25 (Good News Translation)13 It was almost time for the Passover Festival, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 There in the Temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and pigeons, and also the moneychangers sitting at their tables. 15 So he made a whip from cords and drove all the animals out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle; he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins; 16 and he ordered those who sold the pigeons, “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that the scripture says, “My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire.” 18 The Jewish authorities came back at him with a question, “What miracle can you perform to show us that you have the right to do this?” 19 Jesus answered, “Tear down this Temple, and in three days I will build it again.” 20 “Are you going to build it again in three days?” they asked him. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple!” 21 But the temple Jesus was speaking about was his body. 22 So when he was raised from death, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and what Jesus had said. 23 While Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover Festival, many believed in him as they saw the miracles he performed. 24 But Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew them all. 25There was no need for anyone to tell him about them, because he himself knew what was in their hearts.
From the very beginning of its religious story, Israel conceived of its relationship with Yahweh as a covenant, a “bilateral” pact similar to those existing between nations. In fact, at least on three solemn occasions (Exodus 19 and 24, Deuteronomy 29-30, and Joshua 24), the terms are those of an agreement between two parties. God promised protection and blessings to the people, and the people accepted the Laws and commandments from Yahweh. That could be summed up in a very simple sentence: ”I will make you my own people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). This covenant implied two different dimensions in the life of believers: on the one hand, a moral code which was contained in the Torah, the Law; on the other, a number of religious practices and rites to express their attachment to God. If they were faithful to those conditions, Yahweh, in turn, would lead, take care of and protect his chosen people. His fidelity to his promises and commitments was beyond doubt, though the same could not be said about Israel. That is why, whenever they suffered something negative (sickness, loss, a military defeat), the usual question would be: What have we done? What sin have we committed? There is, of course, an obvious risk in this approach to religious life, in the sense that it can transform the relation between believers and God into something similar to a “commercial” deal, a do ut des or quid pro quo (tit for tat, in plain English) agreement, disguised in the form of an alliance or covenant. And, even worse, it can put aside the moral dimension, the personal commitment, and reduce the life of faith to a number of magical, void and meaningless rites. Unfortunately, that is what Jesus finds when he visits the Temple. The Covenant had become a complicated set of regulations and rules, of rites and sacrifices, where the emphasis was put on external appearances and not on the fidelity of the heart and mind. There was something worse than the abuses which could take place in those commercial exchanges of money and goods, something even more perverse than the defilement of the Holy Place. In fact, the real sin is that they had not understood that in the deepest, most authentic and new fulfilment of the old Covenant, “people will not worship the Father in Jerusalem… God is Spirit, and only by the power of the Spirit can people worship him as he really is” (John 4:19-24). That is why Jesus speaks of his own body as the real temple which can overcome destruction and death. No wonder John uses the same verb to describe “raising” the temple and “being raised” from the dead, as well as the paschal phrase “in three days.” It is little wonder Jesus’ words were misunderstood, words whose full meaning even the disciples could not grasp until after his resurrection. The text, then, goes beyond a mere refusal of the corruption of the rites in the temple, it implies the establishment, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, of a new order in the relationship between believers and God. Together with the “new commandment” of love which fulfils and replaces the old Covenant, Jesus introduces a new concept of worship, which will be later developed by Paul in 1 Corinthians: “All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it” (12:27), and hence, “You are God’s temple, and God’s Spirit lives in you … Gods’ temple is holy, and you yourselves are his temple” (3:16-17).
No matter to which Christian tradition we belong, there is always a number of rituals (liturgy, music and hymns, type of prayers) we routinely follow in our religious activities. In any case, above and beyond all those “traditions,” are you conscious of the importance of your personal contact with Christ? Or do you rely only on those outer signs and expressions of worship? Christ, dead on a cross, is the most common image in our churches or liturgical spaces. Does your body, your life, –not your words or reasoning- reflect the true meaning of Jesus’ redemptive death? Sadly, our churches suffer sometimes from a climate similar to that of the Temple in Jerusalem. In what way could you help to improve their conditions within our churches, to transform them into real “houses of the Father”?
Pray for those who feel disappointed at the way in which we worship God, or who feel “out of place” in our meetings. Pray for yourself and your congregation, that you may be a sign of God’s presence in the World. Pray for the ministers of your church, that they may receive the grace and strength to build the true Temple-Body of Christ: the Christian community entrusted to them.
On several occasions I have advised my readers to enter a church or look for a quiet, intimate place for some special purpose. Today, I would advise you to go to the place where you normally pray or meditate. Try to be conscious of yourself as “a temple of God,” a place where he can be found and felt, a place where no signs or words are necessary to pray. Then, when you go back to your daily routine, try also to see God’s presence in the people who surround you.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón Director of Inter-Religious Affairs Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain