A reflection on the Sunday readings for March 7, 2021 — the Third Sunday in Lent
You’re watching the evening news and there is a story about an elderly woman who was mugged on the street in broad daylight. The mugger didn’t realize that there was a surveillance camera on a storefront door exactly in the spot where the mugging happened, and so fortunately this evidence will enable the police to apprehend him. The news shows the surveillance video of the mugging. A young man comes from behind, snatches the elderly woman’s purse, and violently throws her to the ground. As you watch this surveillance footage, what emotion do you feel? Hopefully, you feel anger. I say hopefully because you certainly shouldn’t feel peaceful or happy. The reason you feel anger is because you’ve just witnessed an injustice, an act of violence against an innocent, defenseless person. The reason you feel anger is because you want this wrong to be righted; you want justice for the elderly woman; you want the disorder on our streets to be restored to order.
With this example in mind, we can understand Jesus’ anger in the temple. There are passages in both the Old and New Testaments where we hear about God’s anger. Now, this does not mean that we worship an angry God who’s out to get us. What it means is that the same anger we feel about the elderly woman being mugged is analogous to God’s anger towards sin in the world. God is not angry with us, his children, but he is positively angry towards sin because it hurts us, distorts his image, and brings about disorder in our souls and his creation. And this explains Jesus’ anger in the temple: the temple is in disorder because it is supposed to be the place of worship but it has become a place for making money. And so our Lord’s anger is directed at restoring order to the temple. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great 13th century Dominican priest and theologian wrote that “anger directed against vice is good.” It’s called “zealous anger.”
In his Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. As the temple in Jerusalem was made for worship, so you and I and are made to worship God and to be his image bearers in the world. So, imagine Jesus in the temple of your soul. What are the things in your soul that he wants to drive out? What are the things in your life that are bringing about disorder, that are leading you away from the Lord, the things that ultimately are robbing you of peace?
Peace has been defined as the tranquility of order. Think about that: when we’re at peace, things are properly ordered in our lives; there is harmony. Therefore, when there is disorder in our lives due to sin, we lack peace. A person who is living a double life cannot be at peace. An employer who is cheating his employees cannot be at peace. An employee stealing from his employer cannot be at peace. An unfaithful spouse or an unfaithful priest cannot be at peace. A person consumed by greed or a hunger for power cannot be at peace. A person consumed with envy cannot be at peace. You see, Jesus wants to drive sin out of our lives so that he can “refresh our souls” as Psalm 19 tells us today.
So how is it that our lives can be restored to order as Jesus, in his anger, restored order to the temple? How can we allow the Lord to refresh our souls and bring peace into our lives? It is through worship, which is what the temple was really made for, and what you and I are made for. Worship of God properly orders our lives. When we worship God, we orient our lives to the One who made us, to the One who loves us, to the One with whom we are destined to spend eternity. When we worship God, we offer him our lives: our bodies, our minds, our hearts. When we worship God, the powers of our soul are properly ordered: Our intellect is enlightened by his truth, and therefore we know his truth and allow our lives be governed and shaped by his truth. Our will is directed towards him, the ultimate good, and therefore we learn to choose virtue over vice.
This is what we do at each Mass: we worship God. We offer ourselves to him. Engage in this worship whenever you go to Mass. Tell the Lord from your heart: Lord, I love you. I offer you my mind, my heart, my body. I surrender my life to you. Use me to spread your kingdom. Use me to spread your love. What you will experience in your heart is that when you truly worship God, when you surrender your life to him, he brings order and harmony into your life, and he refreshes your soul with his peace.
Image: The Cleansing of the Temple, El Greco. Public Domain.