For God Alone
With Lent well underway, it is more than fitting for us to consider Christ’s shocking act of cleansing the Jerusalem Temple as presented us in John’s Gospel this week. As we reach further into the heart of this holy season, we watch as Christ reclaims His Father’s house for its original purpose. He drives out everything that is ordered to-wards the concerns of the world, and leaves behind a place for the concerns of God alone. While we may be used to seeing this scene as a simple condemnation of religious hypocrisy or as a precursor to Christ’s Passion, during which His persecutors would bring forward the event as evidence against Him, far more is at stake in this passage. In a veiled way, Christ simultaneously teaches the people of the holy city that He alone, in the temple of His own flesh, is the true place where people may worship the Father rightly and completely, and foretells His own resurrection from the dead as the ultimate sign of His divine authority.
For our purposes this Lent, however, the cleansing also teaches us something about our own souls. In Baptism, we ourselves become, in Christ, true temples of the Blessed Trinity, in which heaven and earth meet, and harmony comes into the world through the right worship of God. Or, rather, that is what we are supposed to become through a life lived with God. Just as the Jerusalem Temple was supposed to be a place entirely for God, where His peace was would become a blessing for the whole world, so we were each supposed to become places set aside for God alone. Yet, just as Christ found that the business of the world had claimed a place in the ancient Temple, He sometimes finds that our hearts are given other to things other than the love of God and of our neighbor. So then, as He cleansed the Temple to bring it back into its intended state, He looks to cleanse our souls, driving out from them whatever is not made over to the worship of the Father.
What does Christ wish to cleanse away? Anything in our lives that is not directed to or subordinate to the love of God. If there is anything in our lives that we love more than God, that we think about more than our life with God, that concerns us more than delighting in God, Christ looks to drive it out of us. Whether those obstacles are our sins, attachment to position, advancement, honor, or respect, desire for getting and possessing material goods, too much love of pleasure, deep fears or sorrows, any sense of misplaced guilt, or spiritual wounds that we carry, Christ looks to drive them from our souls and leave them in the peace necessary to worship God well. It is only once Christ has returned us fully to our intended state as pure Temples of the Trinity that we will know real tranquility and joy of heart.
This reading, then, brings us to the heart of Lent’s purpose. The reason we deny ourselves, the reason we fast, pray, and give alms, is not that we should punish ourselves for our sins, or that we should undertake some kind of spiritual self-improvement project, but so that we can give Christ Himself the space to make of us what we were always intended to be: beings capable of divine love. If we have the courage to endure this purification, then we will become fitting Temples of holy love, radiating Easter joy here on earth, and forever in heaven.