Father George Homily Inspirational

A Collision of Worlds

Lent III (RCL Cycle B)

3 March 2024

This morning’s readings begin a dramatic turn that will take Jesus and us ultimately to Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week. The reading from John’s Gospel places us in the Temple where we witness Jesus driving out the money changers and other merchants.

John places this event early in Jesus’ ministry; while Mark places this same incident on Monday of Holy Week. The effect is the same – it establishes the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities that will ultimately result in Jesus’ arrest and execution by the Romans.

The Temple area was, and is, very large (probably covering more than five to ten acres), so it is not surprising that a part of it had become a kind of sacred market. The arrangement was no less convenient to the worshipers than it was profitable to the Temple authorities. But to Jesus it was offensive, both because of the character of the traders, and because it seemed to compromise the sacred character of the site. We may note the clear recognition of the propriety of holding certain places holy and consecrated to the service of religion. “Is it not written, My house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations?” i

Sue Armentrout writes of today’s Gospel: “In the old city of Jerusalem are innumerable shops, kiosks, stalls where vendors hawk wares to townspeople and tourists. The bazaars or ‘souks’ are veritable hives of activity — from money changers to rug merchants to falafel stands to merchants who sell bottled holy water. These must be similar to what Jesus encountered in the forecourt of the temple. The holy sanctuary had become a bazaar, the house of worship a place of commercial activity. God’s house had become a den of thieves instead of a place for prayer.”

Jesus was not pleased. He was appalled at the tragedy of the temple, which in the prophetic vision (Is. 56:6-8) was to have become the gathering place and house of prayer for all nations. But now it was in fact a den of robbers (Jer. 7:11). God was saying again, as in the word that came to Jeremiah, “I will do unto the house which is called by my name … as I have done to Shiloh.”

Our Gospel text recounts how Jesus did resort to violence in order to drive out the money changers and the vendors of animals for sacrifice. He saw that this was desecration of the worst sort; a mockery was being made of true spiritual worship.

E. F. Scott writes in The Crisis in the Life of Jesus: The Cleansing of the Temple and Its Significance (N. Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952):

The holy place, he said, had become a den of thieves. By this he did not insinuate that the leaders were doing their business dishonestly, though it is … likely that [many] of them took all the advantage they could of the ignorant strangers. They were thieves because they were robbing God of the honor due to him by using his house for unholy purposes. … For John, the cleansing of the temple was no mere outward event which had to be given its place in the history of Jesus. It revealed the inner purpose of his mission, and had therefore to stand at the beginning so that all that followed could be viewed in the light of it.

Jeanne DeCelles in New Heaven, New Earth (South Bend, Indiana: People of Praise, 1989) writes:

Jesus did not get into trouble with the powers of his day simply by challenging the individual behaviors of his hearers. His downfall came from challenging the very systems of his society. He challenged the cornerstones. Just as the values of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and the Pentagon conflict with the gospel, so too with Jesus and the institutions of his time: he was in conflict with the power structures of his own day, religious and civil alike.

Discipleship has its cost — anyone who has dared to bring the gospel to bear on his or her own life knows that. Whether we feel it or not may be a good litmus test for discerning if we are truly following on his path, or pursuing a false trail.

The implication for us is that Jesus offers us a choice between following his path, or following the seductive temptation of the world. Brian Zahnd writing in The Wood Between the Worlds: a Poetic Theology of the Cross (2024) says:

Just as Middle Earth could not be saved, only enslaved by the Ring of Power, so Christianity cannot save the world by political power; it can only be corrupted by it. Jesus Christ crucified is the everlasting indictment on those who forsake the way of the cross to reach for the ring of political power.

Once again, Jesus invites us to follow him. Yet, be aware that all decisions have consequences, especially the decision to follow Jesus.


i P. Gardner-Smith in The Christ of the Gospels (Cambridge, England: W. Heffer & Sons, 1938).

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