Pushing Against Conformity With a Devouring Spirit
By Charlene Ogu
We've come quite away already on our Lenten journeys. We've seen Jesus in the wilderness, fighting temptations and we've seen him at the transfiguration revealing his glory to come to his friends. During this Sunday's gospel we see more of Jesus with his encounter with sellers and money changers at the temple.
For many of us we've found our rhythm of prayer, fasting and almsgiving and through the Holy Spirit we're trying our best to stay obedient as he draws us closer to God. It can be tempting to fall into a comfortable lull but Jesus reminds us of the importance of pushing against the grain of a conformity that keeps us in routine but doesn't bring us to a closer relationship with God.
Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money-changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.
During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.
Picture this: It's spring. The sacred streets of Jerusalem are filled with Jewish people who have come from far and wide for one thing, to celebrate the Passover festival. A festival where the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt is commemorated. The temple surroundings are rowdy with cows and sheep held by ropes to stalls. Behind these stalls are men, loud and intense as they haggle prices for their cattle. Pigeons and doves flutter stifled by the heat and held by the hooks. On the floor money changers cross legged under pale blue and gold woven fabric set with fringed and tasselled low tables covered in balances and money ready to trade the foreign coins of pilgrims with tyrian shekels for the temple tax levied by the high priests.
Now to those in that time this seemed quite normal, the money changers are necessary since coins with foreign God's can not be taken into the temple. Cattle and sheep are needed for sacrifice so it seems more straight forward that you would sell them right where they are needed. And so what if the high priests make a small profit from the hundred of thousands of pilgrims coming into the city? It's only a small tax.
Amongst all the normalities Jesus saw something very different. He saw greed and the commodification of this sacred place of worship. He saw a temple with no quiet place to be still and pray. He saw a people who had forgotten why they were doing what they were doing. He saw a chosen people turn their scared practices into a heedless culture.
It's so easy in our communities and lives to do what has always been done without the grace of the reason behind it. For so many of us we experience the same thing at mass, praying, fasting or when almsgiving. Especially during Lent, it's so easy to fall into that trap. It may even be in places we don't realise in our lives. Maybe what was once a time of fellowship and sisterhood with your friends has turned into occasions of gossip. There are so many occasions where we miss the tremors of our heart which try and align us and keep us more fully aware and conscious.
Our first step in doing this is continually to come back to the truth of who we are as daughters of God.
'...stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’
Solidified in his identity as the son of God, Jesus was able to act with authority because the Spirit of God was with him. Filled with the Holy Spirit that drove him out into the desert, we see the Spirit active again as Jesus drives the animals and money changers out of the temple. It may have seemed violent and aggressive and indeed it was to an extent. But this reveals to us the fervour at which God calls us move when convicted by the Holy Spirit.
As we continue on this Lent, remember that you are God's temple and his zeal is for you!
Holy Spirit, come and move our hearts, help us to listen to your voice and be obedient to your word. Convict us to cleanse our selves with your love mercy so that we may be filled with the fullness of you and proclaim your Kingdom. Keep us steadfast so that we may bear your entrusted heart in humility.