3RD SUNDAY OF LENT – B
The Temple of Jerusalem was built on 20 BC by Herod the Great and still unfinished after 46 years of construction during the time of Jesus. It was constructed to simulate the heavenly sanctuary on earth and it housed the most important artifact of Judaism which was the two tables of the Ten commandments inside a gilded wooden box called the Ark of the Covenant. The innermost chamber of the temple was the Holy of Holies which enshrined the Ark of the Covenant which was most sacred for the Jews. For them, it was heaven on earth.
Once a year the Jews would celebrate the Passover to commemorate their salvific event of the Exodus and they do this by offering a sacrifice. Since the sacrifice was offered only in the temple during the Passover, it was customary for the Jews to make a pilgrimage to the temple especially those who were living within the radius of 20 miles from Jerusalem. The offering consisted of two shekels (equivalent of two-day salary) and burnt animals. Since the commerce was done inside the temple, the people had to change their money (with the face of the Roman Emperor) into temple shekels which was the reason of the presence of money changers in the temple. To change the money into the temple shekel for the offering and to buy the animals in the temple was an opportunity for extortion by the temple priests against the poor. This was the injustice that Jesus saw all happening in his Father’s house which triggered the height of his anger. He was angry not just because of the desecration of the physical temple turned into a marketplace but most especially the injustice committed against the poor by using the temple as a front for economic sabotage in the guise of religion and worship.
Jesus cleansed the temple because it failed to contain the Divine and proclaimed the new and definitive temple: his Mystical Body, the Church. The Jerusalem Temple, made by human hands, was razed down to the ground in 70AD. Nothing remained except the Western Wall that used to enclose the temple; it is now called the Wailing Wall because Jews would go there to pray and wail for the loss of their beloved temple.
How do we house God who is boundless and beyond time and space? Divinity can only dwell where sacredness in relationship of self-giving is celebrated. That is why we say God is in heaven because he is a being-in-relations who empties himself eternally. That is why the God we believe in is a trinity: the Father who gives himself eternally by begetting the Son; the Son who in turn gives himself back to the Father in gratitude; and the Holy Spirit who is the gift/love of them both. This self-giving of God finds expression in creation which is an overflow of love celebrated by the Divine Persons. The temple became the abode of God on earth where divinity both dwells and invites encounter with humanity. We encounter the divine through and with each other. When the Son was made flesh (Jn. 1:14) “he pitched his tent amongst us”. Therefore the material temple had become the Person of the Son. Later on St. Paul says "... your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit... therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We have become the living temples of God!
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