“He is the center of history and of the world; he is the one who knows us and who loves us; he is the companion and friend of our life.” – [Blessed] Pope Paul VI
John 2:13-25: Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me.
The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said. During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.
Christ the Lord In the chronology of John’s Gospel, this event takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. John’s point of view, however, rightly interprets it in light of Christ’s entire life. Here Jesus is already speaking of his resurrection. Thus we see how clearly Jesus understood his mission from the very start.
Christ is the ultimate defender of mankind’s authentic relationship with God, and therefore he cleanses the Temple (an architectural symbol of that relationship) of everything that detracts from true faith and heartfelt worship. The officials in charge of the Temple take umbrage at this flouting of their authority, and Christ responds by explaining, albeit indirectly, his own identity and his reason for coming to earth. He calls himself the Temple (the word Jesus used, “sanctuary,” was the inner part of the Temple, the most important part), because as true God and true man, he is the paradigmatic meeting place of the divine and the human. This meeting place, this communion between God and man, will be rejected at first (at the crucifixion), but he will assure us that in the end it will take root and endure (from the Resurrection into the age of the Church).
God had revealed himself directly to only one ancient nation, the nation of Israel. He had instructed them to build a Temple, a place of worship and communion between the one true God and his Chosen People. Solomon’s Temple had housed the altars of sacrifice as well as the Ark of the Covenant itself, the box containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments. No holier place existed on earth – until the coming of Christ. Now, in the aftermath of Christ’s coming, the presence of God has spread throughout the globe; every Christian heart is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, and every Catholic Tabernacle contains the living presence of the very author of the new and everlasting Covenant. Christ would later say that he was “greater than Solomon,” for as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple was (it was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world), it only foreshadowed the true Temple, the one that human hands could never destroy.
Christ the Teacher Few times in the Gospels do we see Christ act or speak out in anger, and when he does, it is always to condemn hypocrisy. By all appearances, the Temple officials were directing their fellow Jews in proper rituals of worship. In actual fact, however, they were adulterating that worship.
God had given his people the Temple to be a house of prayer and worship. The buying, selling, and money changing that went on in the Temple area had long been happening there. When pilgrims came to worship, they had to offer victims to the priests, who would sacrifice them to Yahweh on their behalf. Strict rules governed the qualifications of the victims – not just any animal would do. Therefore, businesses cropped up that specialized in making the right beasts easily available. Likewise, pilgrims came from all over the civilized world and brought money of various mintages. These had to be weighed, valued, and exchanged in order to be used for purchasing the sacrificial victims. Gradually, greed had infiltrated even these sacred services – the money changers demanded exorbitant fees and the vendors overcharged.
In this way, what was meant to be heartfelt service to God became a path to worldly success. The Temple officials were by all appearances exemplarily religious, but actually they were greedy merchants. This contradiction between appearances and reality is hypocrisy. The frightening thing is how easily we fall into it; we are experts at finding ways to project ourselves as exemplary Catholics, while on the inside we still seek the kingdom of “me” rather than the Kingdom of Christ.
Christ the Friend St. John tells us that the Lord knew human nature well; he “could tell what a man had in him.”
Jesus: This should comfort you: I know the contradictions that disturb your mind and heart, the temptations that beset you, the streak of falls and failures that mark your path of discipleship. None of that surprises me. In fact, I came because of them. If you hadn’t needed someone to save you, to redeem you, to renew your weary and dying soul, why would I have had to come? You don’t need to make yourself perfect before you can have confidence in me. Your trust can be vast, joy-filled, and unrestrained right now, if only you will be honest and open. I came because I want your friendship – but I want your friendship, the one that comes from your heart, not from your masks. Approach me in prayer – just as you are!
Christ in My Life Lord, only through my friendship with you can I live in communion with God. You are the one Mediator, Lord – the one true Temple. I believe in you, and I have put all my hopes in you. I want to know, love, and follow you more each day, because in you I will become what I long to be: rich in virtue and wisdom, free from selfishness and sin, strong in love and purified from greed, lust, envy, and arrogance…
I wish you would come and cleanse the money-grubbing, pleasure-grabbing tendencies out of my heart once and for all. You know that I want to be patient, generous, and wise. So why am I so often impatient, selfish, and foolish? My only comfort is that you know me through and through, and even so, you chose me. No task is too great for you, not even bringing light and order to my dark and disordered soul…
I want my life to be fully at the service of what is good, true, and right – of your Kingdom. I want to give myself to you. I believe in you, Lord. All the energy and vitality you have given me, I put back in your hands. The tasks you have given me to do, I do for love of you. I am a Temple dedicated entirely to your glory and your goodness, because all I have I have received from you…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on John 2:13-25: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Mirror of Jesus casting out the money changers at the temple, Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1800s, PD-US, author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.