By Father John P. Cush, STD
You might notice that, in this “Year B” cycle of our lectionary which is dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel according to St. Mark, we are now reading from another Gospel altogether, that of St. John. These two Gospels are rather different overall. Mark is considered to be among the very first of the Gospels to be written, composed shortly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, around the year 70 AD. It is one of the Synoptic Gospels, which means to “look together,” along with that of Matthew and Luke. John’s Gospel, on the other hand, is an entirely different creature!
Believed to have been compiled around 100 AD, it has been described by some like scripture scholar Robert Kysar as a “Maverick Gospel” because it follows its own style, which is heavily influenced by the Greek philosophy of John’s day, as well as by following its own chronology, which places some events in Jesus’ life in different places than the Synoptic Gospels do.
This pericope which we proclaim today from the second chapter of John’s Gospel is a perfect example of what I mentioned above. In it, the Lord Jesus cleanses the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Lord performs this action on the day of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which most commonly we call Palm (or Passion) Sunday. In John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus does so at the very start of his public ministry, immediately after the sign he performs at the Wedding Feast at Cana. So, with this in mind, why would John place this event of the cleansing of the Temple at the very beginning of his Gospel?
In order to understand this, perhaps we need to understand what the significance of the Temple in Jerusalem was for the Jewish people in Jesus’ day. The Temple in Jerusalem was the place where God dwelled. It was the center of all worship. The temple from which Jesus drives out the merchant about whom we hear in today’s Gospel is the second version of the Temple, which was constructed after the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian Exile. Herod the Great, the illegitimate King of the Jews in Jesus’ day, refurbished the Temple around 18 BC and this would have been the one that Christ would have been familiar with in his earthly life.
At the Temple, there would have been a Court of the Gentiles, which basically would have been a marketplace. Remember, Roman coins would have been considered an abomination for the devout Jew, who would have to exchange them for money from Tyre which were called tetradrachms. The Temple contained the Holy of Holies, which in Jesus’ day didn’t contain the Ark of the Covenant, but merely a raised floor where the Ark had stood.
Jesus cleanses the Temple by driving out the money changers and, in doing so, makes an important point — he, as the Christ, is the new Temple. He is, in fact, greater than the Temple. What the Lord Jesus is doing is drawing the attention away from the flashy, superficial things, and asking us to refocus, to put our attention on what really matters, not the gold, but on him, who is Lord. Like myopic people, the Jews who challenge Jesus for a “sign,” and who are amazed that he would state that he would raise the temple in three days after it had been torn down, those who are thinking on the natural level, not the supernatural level, fail to understand that their long-awaited is standing right in front of them.
Lent affords us an opportunity to have the lens of our spiritual eyeglasses adjusted, to go from the nearsightedness of our spiritual vision to see the Christ who lives through us, and in us, and with us, the Christ who is in the poor and downtrodden, the Christ who is our neighbor, the Christ who is standing at the door of our hearts and souls, gently asking if we would so kindly let him in so that he can dwell with us. Our eyes are blinded by so many cares and concerns, by things that don’t really, in the long run, matter as much as Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised.
Readings for Third Sunday of Lent
Ps 19:8,9, 10, 11
1 Cor 1:22-25
Father Cush is the Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, also in Rome.