Today’s Gospel from St. Luke presents a very truncated version of the story of Jesus driving out from the temple “those who were selling things.” He tells them, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
What did Jesus see? Was it the main activity of the temple market area that offended Jesus and how were the people were engaging in that activity? When I envision the scene Jesus saw, I imagine the buying and selling and money changing. But I imagine Jesus also saw many people cheating each other and others haggling excessively over prices. People socializing and carrying on other business. People off in corners gambling, eating, drinking, and probably engaging in a lot of other activities that one would not associate with a temple.
The people Jesus saw were not just engaging in the necessary buying and selling of temple sacrifices. Rather, the buying and the selling, the haggling, the activity of the marketplace, became the center of activity. What Jesus saw were people who had lost their focus, forgot the purpose for which they were there, a people whose focus ceased to be on God. I think that is what Jesus is reacting to when he laments what they have done to the temple, his father’s house.
And when Jesus speaks of the temple, we know He is not just concerned with the physical building. Part of the Gospel message is that there is a new temple, a new place of God’s dwelling, and that temple is Jesus. Jesus’ own body replaces the physical temple as God’s dwelling. Jesus is where we go to worship, Jesus is where we go for solace, Jesus is the source of our salvation. Once the Word becomes flesh, Jesus is the the focal point; it is through Him that we are saved.
This passage invites us to think about how we approach the temple that is Jesus. Do approach Jesus so wrapped up in the world, so completely distracted by our worldly affairs – with what we are buying or selling or getting or not getting, that we cannot hear Him when He speaks to us? Do we approach with a grudge against our brother or our sister, so that our focus is on our own wounds and the injury done to us by another, unable to truly believe in the love our God has for us? Or do we approach with hearts full of love and joy to be in God’s presence?
At another level, the passage also invites us to think about how we approach each other. Do we adopt a marketplace, quid pro quo approach, that tests others by how much they give us or are able to benefit us, how good a deal we are able to get from them? Or do regard others as a cherished, holy place, treating each other with reverence, respect and love? Part of the challenge of this Gospel reading, I think, is the challenge of living each day of our lives in the true belief that we are all living temples of God.