TAKE THESE OUT OF HERE

Fr. John Kha Tran

There was a man who faithfully attended a weekly prayer meeting, always confessing the same thing during testimony time. His prayer seldom varied: "O Lord, since we last gathered together, the cobwebs have come between you and us. Clear away the cobwebs, Lord, that we may again see your face."

At a later meeting, shortly after the man had started his weekly litany, another person called out, "O Lord God, kill the spider!"

Kill the spider that makes all the cobwebs that block our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

Culture of Consumerism

There is a consulting business going on out there with churches around the nation. These companies promise to help parishes to increase their membership and weekly collections by a significant percentage. One day, I received a call from a representative of one of these companies. The man offered me promises and guarantees to increase our memberships and weekly contributions for the parish. He was surprised to hear me decline the offer. I said, “Thank you for your offer, but we are doing fine here at our parish. We have more families joining our church than we can handle, and I am quite satisfied with our collection.” And he interrupted me, “But Father, don’t you want to have an increase in collection? Don’t you want to have more monies for the church?” I nicely but firmly said, “I believe our people are doing their part. I would love to see our people come to worship with a devout spirit. Once our people come with a devout spirit and a heart completely dedicated to God, they will give generous offer to God as well.”

When a church is bought into the culture of consumerism, it will go with the secular markets out there in the world. It will indiscriminately shop from one store to another. It will give workshops and seminars. It will participate in expensive conferences. It will roam in the markets for books, programs, and lectures. It will look for famous speakers. It will organize trips and pilgrimages to different holy places in the world. And at the end their people still feel exhausted and empty. It will drain their resources, and God is still yet to be found in their community. The temple of their life is still not in order. Church is not a supermarket place but it is rather a place to encounter the transcendent God and to establish our relationship with God and with one another. This is what Christ is attempting to do when he enters the Temple of Jerusalem. The readings for this third Sunday of Lent remind us the spirit of our worship. 

Jesus goes to Jerusalem for Passover and he finds in the temple people who are selling oxen, sheep and doves, as well as money changers. He makes a whip of cords and drives all these people and animals out of the temple, and he overturns the tables of the money changers. And he is telling them, "Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace." Jesus has been seen as a compassionate, sensitive, understanding and forgiving person. How are we to understand an angry Jesus?

Constructive Anger

To better understand Jesus’ anger, we can turn back to the criticism the Jewish prophets. Amos, for instance, represents God as saying to the people of his day, "I hate, I spurn your pilgrim feasts; I will not delight in your sacred ceremonies. When you present your sacrifices and offerings I will not accept them" (5:21). Isaiah says on behalf of God, "Do you think I want all these sacrifices you keep offering to me? I have had more than enough of sheep you burn as sacrifices and of the fat of your fine animals. I am tired of the blood of bulls and sheep and goats. Who asked you to bring me all this when you come to worship me? Who asked you to do all this tramping around in my Temple? It is useless to bring your offerings. I am disgusted with the smell of the incense you burn. I cannot stand your New Moon Festivals, your Sabbaths, and your religious gathering; they are all corrupted by your sins. . .  When you lift your hands in prayer, I will not look at you. No matter how much you pray, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves clean. Stop all this evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop doing evil and learn to do right. See that justice is done - help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows (1:11-17).

The old Greek, Aristotle, once said, "Anyone can become angry that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way this is difficult." It is difficult. But anger can be a great motivating force in our lives. Sometimes that anger can be constructive. God has used angry people to cure some of the worst injustices and to solve some of the most perplexing problems this world has known” (King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com).

Anger is a strong feeling of disapproval toward someone’s behavior or action. Anger is not the opposite of love. It might be the expression of concerns, care and in defense of justice and love toward the outcasts who are oppressed, wounded and exploited by others. The Gospel story demonstrates that Jesus is not angry over any injustice done to him. His anger is a constructive anger. Jesus sees the misuse of the temple, the desecration of his Father's house, and the misuse of people by the Jewish leaders. The temple is not just a building like any other building. The temple is not a marketplace where people buy and exchange items to make profits. The temple is God’s house where people gather to pray, to encounter and to worship God. God is present in the temple. People come to the temple in order to be with God, to talk to God and to listen to God.

The law requires the Jews who come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival to bring animals for sacrifices. The sacrificing animals must be in perfect condition. It would be difficult for people who come from different places far away from Jerusalem to carry the animals with them for the sacrifice. When they get to Jerusalem, the animals might be sick or not acceptable for sacrifice. It would be safer and better for them to buy the animals in Jerusalem. In addition, the law also requires people to purchase their sacrifice with Jewish currency. Roman coins were the currency of the day. The coins were stamped with the head of Caesar and with image of pagan gods would be unacceptable. With these requirements by the laws, there was no other choice for people to buy the animals for their sacrifices. Who would be in charge of selling and changing money for the pilgrims? Obviously it would be a good opportunity for families of the Temple authority to make great profits. So it was more likely that members of the Temple authorities were in charge of the businesses in the temple area. This led to Jesus’ action of chasing these merchants and money changers, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

Pure Sacrifices Required

As Jesus enters the Temple he finds a faith that is stale, downright dirty. People are taking advantage of others and ritual has become more important than the condition of the heart. They are confused, misled in listening to invitations to buy products for their faith. They are solicited to participate in the culture of the day.

It is very much the same in our day. God wants the sacrifice of our hearts and love. The world is telling us “No, you do not have to change; you do not have to sacrifice your sinful living. You have the right to live the way you want as long as it makes you happy! You don’t have to please anyone else but you . . . You can live the way you want; and you can attend church and receive Communion like anyone else. The Church cannot tell you not to use contraceptives; the church cannot impose its moral teachings on you. The Church has no right to tell you what to do and how to live your life.

Like the Jews, Catholics are required to go to Church once a week. But we come church not just to fulfill the ritual worship required of us once a week. We come to Church to worship and to offer sacrifice to God as well. God is not expecting us to offer cattle, sheep or dove but ourselves to God. God wants to see us united with Christ in offering ourselves to Him in the Sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist. Our sacrifice must also in perfect condition. We must be in the state of grace in order to be united with Christ in Holy Communion. Our weekly Eucharistic celebration is more than a spiritual business part to be fulfilled. Every time we come to church to celebrate the Eucharist, we are to look into our life to see what have made the temple of God in our life a marketplace. We are to identify the cattle, the sheep, the dove, and the animals that are displaying as items in the marketplace of our life so that we can drive them away. We are to identify things of the world that we, sometimes, consider more important than God or give them more value than our relationship with God. We need to overturn these tables of worldly values and reestablish the order of values for our life. We are to restore the spiritual values and set our life a pure temple of God again.