At this point in our journey through Lent, we are taking a slight detour. Instead of reading from the Gospel of St. Mark, we will concentrate, although not exclusively, on the Gospel of St. John. As I am sure you are aware, St. John’s Gospel is profoundly different than the other three Gospels. It reorders the events of Jesus’ life and includes long dissertations in Jesus’ voice. It reveals that Jesus was God in the flesh.
By the time that St. John’s Gospel was written, the Christian community had come to the realization that Jesus replaced many of the customs and observances of the Jewish faith with new customs, new observances, and new meanings. Today’s Gospel reveals one such change.
For the Jewish people, the Temple was the “axis mundi,” the center of the world. This was the place where God dwelled among the people. It was the place where they went to offer their sacrifices to God. They believed that the Temple was the spot where the world above and the world below come into conjunction with the world of history. Unfortunately, over time, the people had begun to act in the Temple as they acted in the world. They engaged in the art of making a good deal.
Making a deal is written into our social consciousness. If you give me this, I’ll give you that. If I make this promise, you will lend your support. That’s basically how you and I operate in the world of commerce and socialization. If you give me a discount, I will shop exclusively in your place of business. Be my friend, and I will stand by you in adversity.
In the Temple, this kind of activity was reflected in their worship. If I sacrifice a fat lamb, God will forgive me my sins. The more perfect the lamb, the larger God’s forgiveness. I remember when a man approached me and asked me to pray for his special intention, and I had assured him that I would. A month later, he asked me if I was still praying for his intention. When answered in the affirmative, he patted his pocket and said, “There will be something in it for you when God comes through on my request.” Perhaps you have prayed this way yourself and told God that you would “give up smoking” or some such sacrifice if God would heal your loved one of find you a better job.
While deal making is part of our commercial and social world, it simply is not part of our spiritual world. God does not withhold love until we make a big enough sacrifice. God is not in the business of making a deal. God has loved us first. The commandments that God gave the Israelites on Sinai were not a “quid pro quo,” a “this for that” deal. God had already freed them from slavery and had promised to be with them as they made their way to the Promised Land. The way of life that is dictated through the commandments was never meant to be a way of getting something from God. Rather, the commandments were supposed to be our way of thanking God for God’s love.
So when Jesus comes to Jerusalem for the first time and enters the Temple, he begins by calling it his Father’s house. We don’t make deals in this house. There is no place for commerce and horse trading in this holy place. These words revealed to them that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah because they had been told by the prophets that the Messiah would be “consumed by zeal for God’s house.” However, they were not able to let go of their deal-making mentality and asked for a sign. Jesus responds by giving them a sign. The Temple will be destroyed and replaced with his own body. Jesus is now the center of the world, not the Temple, the place where three-way cosmic communication occurs, the presence of God in the midst of the community. Rather than making deals, we are asked to live our lives as he lived his life. We are asked to love one another as he loved us.
That’s where we sometimes hit a roadblock. Jesus’ love for us is demonstrated on the cross. St. Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that the cross is the way we are to come to understand this life. The cross replaces logic and wisdom. Only when we accept the cross can we see the world as Jesus saw it.
Once again, we are asked to consider Lent as a time to consider what God has done for us. God’s love is revealed in the cross. It is this sign by which we identify ourselves. It is this sign that adorns our place of worship because it reminds us powerfully that we are not here to make deals with God. We are here to love God and one another as Jesus taught us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator