Reflection for Sunday 3rd March, 2024 - 3rd Sunday of Lent

A Time of Cleansing (John 2:13-25)

Today we have John’s version of the cleansing of the temple.
When Jesus, at the age of twelve, came to the temple with his parents, he was seriously disillusioned by what he saw.

The sacred area had become a moneymaker’s paradise through the selling of animals and the changing of foreign coins. Imagine the bellowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the heavy stench of offal and blood, and the hustling of people.

The temple was everything but a place of prayer. The boy Jesus informed Mary and Joseph that one day he would transform what he called his Father’s house. When his time came, he made a whip of cord to drive out the animals, and overturned the moneychangers’ tables.

“Do you not recognise that you are a temple of God with the Spirit of God living in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).“Do you not recognise that you are a temple of God with the Spirit of God living in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).

Realistically, it is unlikely that his little whip made any huge clearance, but it was a symbolic gesture passing judgement on a religious system which had lost its way and its right to survive. Challenged by the authorities about what he had done, Jesus answered,

“Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.”

This enigmatic answer would not be understood until after the resurrection of Jesus, three days after the destruction of his mortal body. There would be no further need for sacrificing lambs because, as John the Baptist recognised, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He died at the very time when the lambs were being sacrificed in the temple. Three days later, in rising from the dead a new way to God was opened.

Cleansing of the Church

Saint Paul identified the Christian community, the Church, as a new temple. “Do you not recognise that you are a temple of God with the Spirit of God living in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).

The temple of stone was replaced by a temple of people.

The self-destructive process which infected the old temple system which can recur in any religious institution. It applies to the Church. There is an old saying that the Church must be ever reforming. The Church is in constant need of self-examination.
In any institution, rules or customs which formerly expressed something of value may now be counter-productive. The ultimate questions are “What did Jesus say or do in his time? What would he do in our time?” A Church unwilling to change becomes a museum of dead fossils instead of a Spirit-filled home of evangelization. The empty seats at Sunday Mass are an indication of a dying Church.

But fear not. The rhythm of Church history is that of Jesus … dying and rising. The lowest times of the Church produced the greatest saints and innovations. As G K Chesterton wrote, there were five times when the Church went to the dogs, but it was the dogs who died!

Pope Francis is leading a Synod to reflect and discuss the issues that must be faced if the Church is to be revitalized. As an individual what can you do? We can play our part by invoking the Holy Spirit to lead a dying Church through death, a new rising and a new Pentecost.

O God, you make all things new.
May the Holy Spirit who transformed the apostles at Pentecost, continue to renew the heart of the Church and the face of the earth in a new Pentecost.