Cleansing the Temple–and Our Bodies and Minds–of Idols
On the Sundays of Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by New Ways Ministry staff members. The liturgical readings for the Third Sunday of Lent are: Exodus 20: 1-17; Psalm 19: 8-11; 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25; John 2: 13-25. You can access the texts of these readings by clicking here.
Today’s Gospel reading is sometimes referred to as the “Cleansing of the Temple” and is an episode recorded by all four Gospel writers. John the Evangelist says that Jesus “made a whip out of cords” and drove the money changers and animals out of the temple area. I imagine Jesus might have shocked his friends and followers by acting in such a forceful way. At the very least, his words and actions never fail to discomfort me.
Jesus is obviously upset by what he sees, but why? Explanations are many and varied. Some commentators suggest he was upset by the commercialization and economic exploitation occurring on temple grounds. Others claim he was demonstrating his opposition to the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. While these explanations have certain merits, I think there is a much more fundamental reason for Jesus’ anger: idolatry.
Jesus’ actions are an amplification of the Exodus commandment that “You shall have no other gods besides me.” He commands the people to “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” – in other words, stop distracting people from God. A lot more than commercial transactions occur in a marketplace. People trade gossip, make dinner plans, talk about local politics, covet what they cannot afford, etc. The buzz of activity in the temple area was not bringing people closer to God; to the contrary, their minds were so filled with distractions that God was forgotten. This “soft” idolatry does not involve worshipping golden calves, but it is idolatry nonetheless because God is crowded out of our hearts by relatively trivial matters.
I recall a popular quote by Dorothy Day: “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?” I think Dorothy was keenly aware of the many little “gods” that invade our lives each day and alienate us from our Creator. Her revolution of the heart is nothing less than each of us rejoicing in what brings us closer to God and rejecting what pushes us farther away. The challenge for us is taking the time and expending the effort to discern what does and does not lead us to fuller life with God.
I am consoled by John’s words that Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” Jesus knows how hard it is to remain centered in God when surrounded by a world full of distractions. He knows the challenges that we face by the commandment that shall put nothing ahead of God.
As you work for justice and equality for LGBT people in church and society, what are the distractions or idols that divert you from the work that needs to be done? If you would like to share your thoughts with other readers, please post them in the “Comments” section of this post.
During our Lenten journey, may we confidently join Jesus, our brother in all things, in cleansing the temple of our minds and bodies from everything that distracts us from God. It’s a big challenge, but one well worth trying.
–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry
“[C]leansing the Temple” comments by Mr. Myers gave the reader much to ponder. Thanks ! If one were to exchange the word “temple” with the word “Vatican”, Jesus would be flailing his whip from one end of Vatican City to the other. Vatican finances and pederasty ,alone, could easily cause Jesus to become a whirligig of fury.
LOL…but also very well said! Pope Francis has certainly made a major downpayment on institutional reparations and reformations, to start to fix those diabolical abuses, but there’s still a long way to go. I really love the image of Jesus Himself showing up at the Vatican — especially at the doors of the murky Mafia enclave of the Vatican Bank — and announcing that The Boss’s Son is here with a whip in one hand, and a new broom in the other, and is going to clean things up, whether those petty bureaucrats like it or not.