This past week found me at St. Thomas Parish in Naperville, IL, where I preached the parish Lenten mission. I wasn’t able to continue my blogging activity as a result. The mission went well and seemed to be well received. I am grateful for God’s help in this activity.
This weekend, we shift to St. John’s Gospel and will be reading from it for most of the rest of the Lenten and Easter Seasons. The Church’s use of this Gospel during this special time of year particularly asks us to engage in the same kind of reflection that produced the Gospel in the first place. According to many Scripture scholars, the early Christian community of Ephesus produced this Gospel late in the first century after the Resurrection of Jesus. It has as its stated purpose “that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 21:31b).
Unlike the synoptic Gospels, the evangelist places the incident commonly called “the cleansing of the Temple” at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry rather than after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As we read this story, two words jump out at us; namely, “recalled,” and “remembered.” Twice the evangelist comments that the followers of Jesus only understood this incident after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. The facts are presented rather “matter of factly.” In the synoptic Gospels, this incident is used as an impetus to arrest Jesus and bring him before the Sanhedrin. In this Gospel, the evangelist is linking Jesus to the other prophets of Israel who also railed against the profanation of the Temple.
Actually the money changers and the animal sellers are performing a useful purpose. The money used in common commercial exchanges in Israel was Roman, the coinage of the occupying force. It bore the image and inscription of Caesar and proclaimed Caesar as a god. Use of such coins in the Temple was forbidden by the very first commandment which we hear in this Sunday’s first reading. So the money changers exchange the uninscribed Jewish coinage for the Roman coinage as people are coming into the Temple. This practice was ripe for abuse as the money changers took advantage and charged exorbitant exchange rates. The same could be said of those who were selling animals which were a necessary part of Jewish Temple ritual. The practice itself was useful; however, the danger of profaning the Temple’s innermost court would have dictated that the sale of animals should have been done in the outer courtyards rather than where people were praying.
By linking Jesus to the prophets at the beginning of his ministry, the evangelist is leading us to faith in Jesus. He includes the editorial comment about the disciples remembering this incident to emphasize that this story, like all others in the Fourth Gospel are meant to focus our attention on Jesus, the God’s Word made flesh. “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2:16b).
As we journey toward and beyond the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, we cannot go astray if we concentrate on our own faith in the Jesus. Easter brings with it yet another opportunity to strengthen and reinvigorate our faith as we renew our baptismal promises.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator