Third Sunday of Lent: Reflections on the Gospel

The Gospel reading for Sunday 11th March is John 2.13-22 (or 13-25)

Making a whip out of some cord, Jesus drove [the traders and money changers] out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’

Jesus’ prophetic action here recalls the Temple to its true purpose, as ‘a house of prayer for all people’.  Instead it has become ‘a market’.  Marketplaces are not bad in themselves: it is not as if buying and selling are intrinsically ‘unspiritual’ activities. Trade and enterprise are essential if we are to have food, clothing and shelter. Many Christians have a vocation to this vital work.
The problem comes when things that are good in themselves – possessions, wealth, trade – become idols.  In their God-given place, these good things contribute to human flourishing.  They become idols when they are placed in the centre of our lives.  Our economic life needs to be built around our love of God and neighbour – not the other way round.
The market in the Temple had become part of an idolatrous system – a system which was now hindering the ability of people to meet with God.  Jesus’ response is dramatic and unflinching.
What are today’s idols?  Archbishop Rowan Williams has suggested that it is time for us to challenge the idols of high finance

The Church of England and the Church Universal have a proper interest in the ethics of the financial world and in the question of whether our financial practices serve those who need to be served – or have simply become idols that themselves demand uncritical service.

Recalling our marketplaces to their true vocation under God – that of ‘serving those who need to be served’ – will require courage in our day as it did in Jesus’.  We need to be prepared for resistance and controversy.  In the words of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero:

A preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens – as when a light turned on awakes and of course annoys a sleeper – that is the preaching of Christ, calling: Wake up! Be converted! That is the Church’s authentic teaching. Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict, must spoil what is miscalled prestige, must disturb…

What does this mean for us?  The vocations website of the Roman Catholic Church puts it well:

A priest is unlikely to have to repeat Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple … but his words will demand the overturning of people’s lives if it is the Gospel he preaches.

In a society such as ours, the words of the Gospel demand a radical transformation of the way we think, act and live. One example is the question of peace and justice. The priest’s ministry includes a full presentation of the Church’s social teaching, taking seriously the Gospel as a message of freedom, of liberation from everything that oppresses God’s people. 

This is a challenge for members of every denomination.  Male and female, lay and ordained, we are called to embody the challenge of Jesus’ cleansing  of the Temple – and the hope of a more just economic order.

Resources for engaging churches in prayer, listening and action on these issues is online at calltochange.org

   
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