March 11 is the Third Sunday in Lent (Year B, Cycle II).
Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; Psalm 19:8-11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
A house’s rules define it.
There are many modern versions of house rules. Sometimes you can see them posted on decorative plates or fun signs.
One version goes: “House Rules: If you open it, close it. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you borrow it, return it. If you use it, take care of it.” That sounds like a fine place.
Another sign reads: “House Rules: If you don’t live here, don’t change the music. If you drink the last beer, get more. Don’t bring shady friends to the house. The couch is an alternative to drunk driving.” That place sounds a little more worrisome.
The Temple in Jesus’ time was becoming a more worrisome place than it should be, so Jesus found the need to reassert rules of his own.
Scholars suggest that Jesus had two specific problems with what was going on in the Temple: First, money changers were exacting high rates of exchange, thereby taking advantage of religious pilgrims’ piety to line their own pockets. Second, the money changers had set up shop in the area of the Temple reserved for Gentiles, thus crowding out any Gentiles who might want to participate in Temple worship.
By driving the money changers out of this area, Jesus reasserts two rules of the Temple. If they were put up in a sign on the wall, it might read: “Temple Rules: 1. This is a place of worship above all. 2. This is a place that welcomes others.”
To Jesus, these are more than rules: They touch on his, and his people’s, deepest identity. The Temple is his Father’s house. It is his dwelling place on earth; it represents the covenant he has made with his people.
Because of the Temple, the Jewish people are the chosen people, and because they are the chosen people, they come to the Temple.
The Temple’s importance to the Jews is what makes them so scandalized by what he says next: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The author of the Gospel, St. John, clues us in on what Jesus has in mind. “He was speaking about the temple of his body,” he writes. “When he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this.”
We know now what he meant. God had a new dwelling place on earth: the body of Christ. And Jesus would soon make a new covenant: Through his sacrifice on the cross, carried to us through the sacraments, he would welcome all of us into this “new temple” of his body, and our bodies would become temples where he lives.
In the new covenant, Jesus would apply those house rules — “This is a place of worship above all,” and “This is a place that welcomes others” — to his Church and to each of us.
These two rules, in fact, sum up the most ancient “house rules”: The Ten Commandments that we hear about in our first reading.
The first three of them have to do with loving God above all — more than idols like money; more than ourselves; more than our own plans. The last three of them have to do with the welcome we owe to others: We must honor our parents. Don’t kill. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal, etc.
These rules have always been important for individuals. Now that we are members of Christ’s body, in his covenant, they are even more important.
Remember how angry Christ got when people violated the rules of the Temple? When we violate the Ten Commandments, what we are doing is as bad or worse than what those money changers did. We are now one of Christ’s houses, his temple, and he does not want us to make his temple into a place of iniquity.
That is one of the purposes of Lent. In Lent, we drive the money changers out of the temple that each of us is; we drive out the bad habits and negative tendencies we have built up. And then we celebrate that moment when Christ laid down his life and raised his temple — and ours — again on the third day.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.