(Photo by Pavan Maruvada: https://www.pexels.com)


Third Sunday in Lent
 “Laudato Si’ Journey  – Sunday Gospel”


Sunday, March 3
Jn 2, 13-25


We’re on the third Sunday of the Lenten journey toward the Lord’s Passover, ascending with Jesus toward Jerusalem. In the first few lines of this chapter in John’s gospel, he recounts Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, where the focus was on a ‘feast’—something quite superfluous. After the banquet, Jesus returns to Capernaum with his family and then visits the temple—his true home.

One might therefore expect a solemn, triumphant entrance into the temple. However, God surprises us. While at the banquet, He shows friendship and mercy towards people, in the temple He demonstrates decidedly harsh behavior. It’s as if He speaks to each one of us in the connections between the temple built by human hands, the temple of God’s Creation and in the temples we build with our own mental projections which are often inhabited by gods in our own image and likeness.

“The Jewish Passover was near.” For John, ‘the Jews’, Ἰουδαίων, does not refer to the people of Israel, but rather to the leaders of the people, those who opposed the recognition of the messiah in the early Church. On this occasion, thousands of people went up to the temple (in previous years even more than a hundred thousand people had participated), bringing immense loads of lambs for sacrifice and tributes were paid at the temple using “pure” coins instead of the coins of the Empire, which had pagan effigies on them. Because of this, the money changers did big business in those days.

The temple is an attractive place not only because it is a central bank where business is done, but also because of its significance in the city. It’s the holy place, a place set apart, the point of connection with the divine, the fanum, the pure place. What lies in front of the fanum, the pro fanum, is something impure, precisely “profane,” and it surrounds the sacred building along with the rest of the city. Still today, in our cities, the church or the cathedral represent central places in urban planning; they are the spaces where the most important festivals, gatherings, and solemnities take place. However, in our cities, the central holy place is becoming something else, ranging from shopping malls to sports facilities, based on the true values that animate our societies.

So identifying the temple is crucial. “He made a whip out of cords.” To this physical and highly visible element in the city, with its teeming business and money, Jesus opposes a highly visible element, a φραγέλλιον, literally “scourge,” with which he drives out sheep and oxen, but not doves. Not a random choice, since doves were of the poor and somehow represented the Jewish people. The sheep and oxen, on the other hand, were closely linked to power, to the leaders of the people to whom Jesus reminds, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” highlighting that the Father is “mine,” that he is the only begotten son, and that the temple is a place of sharing and not of supremacy.

Because zeal for your house consumes me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.” (Ps. 69:10). These are the verses of the Psalm that come back to the disciples’ minds after the resurrection when they remember this strange gesture of Jesus. How often is it that what the Lord accomplishes in our lives is not at all clear?… but then when we actually want it, if we manage to connect the dots and have the grace to remember, everything becomes clear! Certainly Jesus’ words to the protestations of those present were very explicit, yet surely enigmatic to those who first heard them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

The Jews, or rather as said before, the people’s leaders, ask what authority Jesus has to do this. They are the authority in the temple; they do everything by the rules and they dictate the rules. So they ask Jesus for a sign, something to justify his authority. Here is Jesus’ authority: Λύσατε τὸν ναὸν τοῦτον, “dissolve this sanctuary.” Dissolve is an ambiguous term; it can mean “destroy,” but also “liberate.” Here, we are no longer talking about the temple, but about the sanctuary, the heart of the temple, that inaccessible place. In fact, the leaders of the people are already destroying the fanum, reducing it to a marketplace. Jesus foretells that he will give a different word to this fate of death.

“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,and you will raise it up in three days?” The question of the people’s leaders sounds mocking, and how can one blame them? Herod’s temple, inside which they were speaking, begun decades earlier on the ruins of Solomon’s temple and still with embellishment work in progress, was evidently one of those endless works, like so many that man has built throughout the ages. However, Jesus was not talking about a temple of stones, but rather about that precious sanctuary which is His body. God is in the body, in the mystical body. God lives in the poor, in the marginalized, in his marvelous and suffering Creation, in those places where one can breathe his primordial breath and his righteousness.

Looking for this temple, even in our daily lives, helps us understand our scale of values. Where do we look for the temple of God? We are too accustomed to discard, to dispense with the poor, to disregard our common home that we destroy, and we forget that Jesus himself is like a discarded stone becoming the foundation stone of this most precious shrine. When we rediscover the deep meaning of relationships, the capacity to give to others — Jesus overturns counters with coins, perhaps a warning with respect to our economy that destroys — the capacity for forgiveness, on those occasions we “worship God,” we bring Him to our mouth, we kiss Him, we eat Him, we feed on Him.

John’s gaze turns to the disciples, who “remembered that he had said this,” in the classic style of the evangelist who returns to the characters by interspersing the narrative, a style that earned him the symbolic image of the eagle, which makes continuous concentric circles to reach its prey. Today’s passage concludes with the theme of faith in response to Jesus’ actions. On one side are the disciples, who “came to believe the scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.” Scripture and Word being two complementary parts. On the other side the Jews, who began “to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.” But Jesus does not exult, is not interested in these successes, is not deluded, and  knows the human heart. Following Jesus, seriously, is no joke, and the issue of faith must be addressed in the darkness of our existence. Next Sunday’s gospel will address this issue.

To worship this most precious shrine, the body of Christ, in the splendor of Creation, is what St. Clare of Assisi invites us to do: “Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead itself through contemplation” (FF 2888).

We hope you have a lovely Sunday as we journey toward the Lord’s Easter, accompanied by His word!

Laudato si’!