POPE FRANCIS: REFLECTION FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B.
CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE.
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER
“Franso Hariri” Stadium in Erbil (Iraq)
Sunday, 7 March 2021
Saint Paul has told us that “Christ is the power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22-25). Jesus revealed that power and wisdom above all by offering forgiveness and showing mercy. He chose to do so not by displays of strength or by speaking to us from on high, in lengthy and learned discourses. He did so by giving his life on the cross. He revealed his wisdom and power by showing us, to the very end, the faithfulness of the Father’s love; the faithfulness of the God of the covenant, who brought his people forth from slavery and led them on a journey of freedom (cf. Ex 20:1-2).
How easy it is to fall into the trap of thinking that we have to show others that we are powerful or wise, into the trap of fashioning false images of God that can give us security (cf. Ex 20:4-5). Yet the truth is that all of us need the power and wisdom of God revealed by Jesus on the cross. On Calvary, he offered to the Father the wounds by which alone we are healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). Here in Iraq, how many of your brothers and sisters, friends and fellow citizens bear the wounds of war and violence, wounds both visible and invisible! The temptation is to react to these and other painful experiences with human power, human wisdom. Instead, Jesus shows us the way of God, the path that he took, the path on which he calls us to follow him.
In the Gospel reading we have just heard (Jn 2:13-25), we see how Jesus drove out from the Temple in Jerusalem the moneychangers and all the buyers and sellers. Why did Jesus do something this forceful and provocative? He did it because the Father sent him to cleanse the temple: not only the Temple of stone, but above all the temple of our heart. Jesus could not tolerate his Father’s house becoming a marketplace (cf. Jn 2:16); neither does he want our hearts to be places of turmoil, disorder and confusion. Our heart must be cleansed, put in order and purified. Of what? Of the falsehoods that stain it, from hypocritical duplicity. All of us have these. They are diseases that harm the heart, soil our lives and make them insincere. We need to be cleansed of the deceptive securities that would barter our faith in God with passing things, with temporary advantages. We need the baneful temptations of power and money to be swept from our hearts and from the Church. To cleanse our hearts, we need to dirty our hands, to feel accountable and not to simply look on as our brothers and sisters are suffering. How do we purify our hearts? By our own efforts, we cannot; we need Jesus. He has the power to conquer our evils, to heal our diseases, to rebuild the temple of our heart.
To show this, and as a sign of his authority, Jesus goes on to say: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). Jesus Christ, he alone, can cleanse us of the works of evil. Jesus, who died and rose! Jesus, the Lord! Dear brothers and sisters, God does not let us die in our sins. Even when we turn our backs on him, he never leaves us to our own devices. He seeks us out, runs after us, to call us to repentance and to cleanse us of our sins. “As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11). The Lord wants us to be saved and to become living temples of his love, in fraternity, in service, in mercy.
Jesus not only cleanses us of our sins, but gives us a share in his own power and wisdom. He liberates us from the narrow and divisive notions of family, faith and community that divide, oppose and exclude, so that we can build a Church and a society open to everyone and concerned for our brothers and sisters in greatest need. At the same time, he strengthens us to resist the temptation to seek revenge, which only plunges us into a spiral of endless retaliation. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he sends us forth, not as proselytizers, but as missionary disciples, men and women called to testify to the life-changing power of the Gospel. The risen Lord makes us instruments of God’s mercy and peace, patient and courageous artisans of a new social order. In this way, by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit, the prophetic words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians are fulfilled: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s wisdom is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:25). Christian communities made up of simple and lowly people become a sign of the coming of his kingdom, a kingdom of love, justice and peace.
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body, and about the Church as well. The Lord promises us that, by the power of the resurrection, he can raise us, and our communities, from the ruins left by injustice, division and hatred. That is the promise we celebrate in this Eucharist. With the eyes of faith, we recognize the presence of the crucified and risen Lord in our midst. And we learn to embrace his liberating wisdom, to rest in his wounds, and to find healing and strength to serve the coming of his kingdom in our world. By his wounds, we have been healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). In those wounds, dear brothers and sisters, we find the balm of his merciful love. For he, like the Good Samaritan of humanity, wants to anoint every hurt, to heal every painful memory and to inspire a future of peace and fraternity in this land.
The Church in Iraq, by God’s grace, is already doing much to proclaim this wonderful wisdom of the cross by spreading Christ’s mercy and forgiveness, particularly towards those in greatest need. Even amid great poverty and difficulty, many of you have generously offered concrete help and solidarity to the poor and suffering. That is one of the reasons that led me to come as a pilgrim in your midst, to thank you and to confirm you in your faith and witness. Today, I can see at first hand that the Church in Iraq is alive, that Christ is alive and at work in this, his holy and faithful people. Dear brothers and sisters, I commend you, your families and your communities, to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, who was united to her Son in his passion and death, and who shared in the joy of his resurrection. May she intercede for us and lead us to Christ, the power and wisdom of God.
3rd Sunday of Lent,
4 March 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today’s Gospel [3rd Sunday of Lent Year B] presents, in John’s version, the episode in which Jesus drives the merchants out of the Temple of Jerusalem (cf. 2:13-25). He performs this act with the help of a whip of small cords, overturns the tables and says: “you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (v. 16). This decisive action, undertaken in proximity to Passover, makes a great impression on the crowd and sparks the hostility of the religious authorities and of those who feel their economic interests threatened. But how should we interpret it? It certainly was not a violent action, insomuch as it did not provoke the intervention of the defenders of public order: the police. No! But it was interpreted as an action typical of prophets, who often denounced, in the name of God, abuses and excesses. The issue raised was that of authority. In fact the Jews asked Jesus: “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” (v. 18), that is, what authority do you have to do these things? As if to demand that he show he was truly acting in the name of God.
To interpret Jesus’ act of purifying the house of God, his disciples made use of a biblical text taken from Psalm 69: “For zeal for thy house has consumed me” (v. 9); the Psalm says this: “For zeal for thy house has consumed me”. This Psalm is a call for help in a situation of extreme peril due to the hatred of enemies: the situation that Jesus will experience in his Passion.
Zeal for the Father and for his house will lead him all the way to the Cross: his is the zeal of love which leads to self-sacrifice, not that false zeal that presumes to serve God through violence. Indeed the “sign” that Jesus will give as proof of his authority will be precisely his death and Resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). The Evangelist notes: “But he spoke of the temple of his body”. With Jesus’ Paschal Mystery begins the new worship, in the new temple, the worship of love, and the new temple is He himself.
Jesus’ behaviour recounted in today’s Gospel passage exhorts us to live our life not in search of our own advantage and interests, but for the glory of God who is love. We are called to always bear in mind those powerful words of Jesus: “you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (v. 16). It is very harmful when the Church goes astray with this manner of making the house of God a house of trade. These words help us to reject the danger of also making our soul, which is God’s dwelling place, a house of trade, by living in constant search of our personal interests instead of generous and supportive love. This teaching of Jesus is always timely, not only for Church communities, but also for individuals, for civil communities and for society as a whole. Indeed, it is a common temptation to exploit good, sometimes dutiful deeds in order to cultivate private, if not entirely illicit interests. It is a grave danger, especially when one exploits God himself and the worship owed to him, or service to mankind, His image. This is why Jesus used “a harsh approach” that time, in order to shake us from this mortal danger.
May the Virgin Mary support us in the effort to make Lent a good occasion to recognize God as the One Lord of our life, removing all forms of idolatry from our hearts and from our deeds.
Angelus Address, March 7, 2015
3rd Sunday of Lent Year B
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today’s Gospel presents the episode of the expulsion of the merchants from the temple (Jn 2:13-25). Jesus “made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen” (Jn 2:15), the money, everything. Such a gesture gave rise to strong impressions in the people and in the disciples. It clearly appeared as a prophetic gesture, so much so that some of those present asked Jesus: “[But] what sign can you show us for doing this?” (v. 18), who are you to do these things? Show us a sign that you have authority to do them. They are seeking a divine sign, a prodigy that would certify Jesus as being sent by God. And He responded: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). They replied: “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” (v. 20). They had not understood that the Lord was referring to the living temple of His body, that would be destroyed in the death on the Cross, but would be raised on the third day. For this, in “three days.” “When He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (v. 22).
In effect, this gesture of Jesus and His prophetic message are fully understood in the light of His Pasch. We have here, according to the evangelist John, the first proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ: His body, destroyed on the Cross by the violence of sin, will become in the Resurrection the universal meeting place between God and men. And the Risen Christ is Himself the universal meeting place – for everyone! – between God and men. For this reason, His humanity is the true temple where God is revealed, speaks, is encountered; and the true worshippers, the true worshippers of God are not only the guardians of the material temple, the keepers of power and of religious knowledge, [but] they are those who worship God “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23).
In this time of Lent we are preparing for the celebration of Easter, when we will renew the promises of our Baptism. Let us travel in the world as Jesus did, and let us make our whole existence a sign of our love for our brothers, especially the weakest and poorest, let us build for God a temple of our lives. And so we make it “encounterable” for those who we find along our journey. If we are witnesses of this living Christ, so many people will encounter Jesus in us, in our witness. But, we ask – and each one of us can ask ourselves – does the Lord feel at home in my life? Do we allow Him to “cleanse” our hearts and to drive out the idols, those attitudes of cupidity, jealousy, worldliness, envy, hatred, those habits of gossiping and tearing down others. Do I allow Him to cleanse all the behaviours that are against God, against our neighbour, and against ourselves, as we heard today in the first Reading? Each one can answer for himself, in the silence of his heart: “Do I allow Jesus to make my heart a little cleaner?” “Oh Father, I fear the rod!” But Jesus never strikes. Jesus cleanses with tenderness, with mercy, with love. Mercy is the His way of cleansing. Let us, each of us, let us allow the Lord to enter with His mercy – not with the whip, no, with His mercy – to cleanse our hearts. The whip of Jesus with us is His mercy. Let us open to Him the gates so that He would make us a little cleaner.
Every Eucharist that we celebrate with faith makes us grow as a living temple of the Lord, thanks to the communion with His crucified and risen Body. Jesus recognizes that which is in each of us, and knows well our most ardent desires: that of being inhabited by Him, only by Him. Let us allow Him to enter into our lives, into our families, into our hearts.
May Mary most holy, the privileged dwelling place of the Son of God, accompany us and sustain us on the Lenten journey, so that we might be able to rediscover the beauty of the encounter with Christ, the only One Who frees us and saves us.
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