Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.
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The words of John's gospel today may be familiar ones to us. I've heard this passage countless times to show that "even Jesus got angry" and to (rightfully) justify outrage at injustice and disrespect of the Lord. But sometimes I think we are kidding ourselves. We hide our self-righteous pride behind Jesus' righteous anger. We stand in condemnation with Jesus, ready to point out the hypocrites in church, ready to point the finger at what everyone else is doing wrong. But maybe we should consider this story from another angle, the angle of the temple, because each of us is a temple of God.
We don't want to believe that we are overrun with the likes of oxen, sheep, doves, and money changers. How blasphemous! But what if we knew that the oxen, sheep, and doves in the passage were being sold for sacrifice in the temple, a common practice of the day? And what if we realized that the moneychangers were there so you could pay the temple tax, not something that would immediately be recognized as out of place? Surprisingly for us, they might actually appear to belong.
And that is how it is with us. Subtle lies work their way into our lives, as does the stress that builds up little by little, and the bitterness that we don't realize is there until it threatens to crush us. The lies of "if my salary were just a little higher, I'd be happy," or "my life would be a lot easier if I just cut a corner every once in a while like everyone else" or "I don't have time to worry about others right now, I need to focus on my own life and career."
When we hear in today's first reading from Exodus, "You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves...", we tend towards complacency because we're not carving idols and bowing down to them. We think, "Check. Got that commandment covered." And then I realize: my idols look more like the oxen and the moneychangers. They try to blend in with truth and they hide behind my pride. They're those lies that tell me to cave to my fear instead of trusting in God, and to give into despair and cynicism instead of choosing to hope. And they're those subtle lies of our culture-lies of materialism and minimal effort and individualism.
But Jesus' response to my pride, my laziness, and my despair, to the temple that you and I have let get overrun by lies is thus: "take these out of here." Jesus' words tell me two things:
First, it tells me that God is consumed with love for me. He loves me enough to ask me to do the tough work of being cleansed of all that is not of Him. It may be painful to face my fears, my idols, my sins, and my deep-seated hurts that have taken root in me, but doing so will allow me to join in the new life of Christ: the resurrection. We meet God in the hard work of our cleansing as we experience the pattern of suffering, death, and rising to new life.
And Jesus' response tells me something else in addition to his crazy love for us. He has the words of Scripture imprinted on His heart. The end of the passage tells us that his disciples came to see the truth of his actions when they recalled the Scripture as well. What do we have imprinted on our hearts?
In today's psalm, we proclaim, "Lord you have the words of everlasting life." Do we know what those words of love are? This Lent, we can try to imprint the love of God in our lives through keeping a record of our gifts in a gratitude journal and we can recognize His presence in our lives when we share our stories with one another.
When I am unsure of where God is leading me next, I remind myself, "God's led me this far. He won't leave me hanging." But in order to know that truth and not just say it, I have to recall, remember, name, and record how God has worked in my life and others' lives. Otherwise, I forget. We collectively forget because as Jesus points out, it is human nature to forget and distrust. Though the "signs" we see lead us to believe and trust in the moment, they sometimes aren't enough to sustain us when we are blinded by sin or walking in the shadow of death. But if we are cleansed by the remembering of God's word and how He has been present in our lives in the past, we are able to know God's loving presence and remain hopeful, even in the most difficult of moments. He has been faithful before; He'll be faithful again.
Remember and name His goodness. Do the hard work of cleansing your temple. Let God love you, and then go share that love with others.