I saw a cartoon this week that featured two people. On the left was a very angry looking man. He was fuming, fists clenched, as he railed against the HHS mandate which would require Catholic employers (including hospitals, universities, etc.) to provide contraception and sterilization services to their employees, even though it violates the Church's teaching. The man is saying that he will not stand for this assault on religious freedom. He says, "What does our government expect Christians to do? Turn the other cheek? Beat our swords into plow shares? Love our enemies?"
The man on the right is a familiar face. It's Jesus, and he's looking at the angry man, saying, "Well, actually..."
The satirist is trying to be ironic, because everyone knows Jesus did command us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and all of that. But Jesus was no push over. All too often, I am afraid, people's images of Jesus today are of a Biblical Peacenic. But our Lord's teachings about peace and love are not meant to turn Christians into wimps and door mats. Jesus certainly was not.
Look at today's Gospel reading from John 2:13-25. Many of you will be familiar with the Cleansing of the Temple. (Remember that those who came to the Temple in Jerusalem needed an animal to sacrific and many would purchase an animal for the purpose there; as they were coming from many different regions, using different currencies, money changers were needed to facilitate commerce. By Jesus' time, the trade of selling sacrificial animals, and exchanging currency, had encroached right into the temple area.)
I want you to imagine this scene in your head. Jesus overturning tables. Jesus making a whip and actually using it to drive these men and animals away. (As I told a student earlier this week, you haven't been whipped, till you've been whipped by the Lord!) Is this the behavior of the sheepish Jesus from the political cartoon I described? No. But it is the Jesus of the Gospels. It's the real Jesus. And he was angry. Why? Because they were making his Father's house a marketplace.Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
Note, they were not vandalizing it. They were not tearing it down. They were not destroying its walls. They were simply misusing it.
Jesus tells us something else of importance in this Gospel passage. He tells the Jewish people that they can destroy "this Temple" and in three days he will raise it up. They misunderstand him, for they do not realize "he was speaking about the temple of his body."
Think on this. Our own bodies are temples as well. The Temple, in the Jewish religion, was where the presence of God dwelt. If you are a baptized Christian, you have received his grace, which is the very life of God. So long as you remain in his grace, you have the life of God dwelling in you. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Are you guilty of misusing or abusing this temple?
The first reading today is from Exodus 20:1-17. In this passage, the Ten Commandments are related to us. Have no other Gods before me. Do not take the Lord's name in vain. Honor the Sabbath. Honor your father and mother. Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not covet your neighbor's possessions. Do not cover your neighbor's wife. When we do any of these things, we abuse our temple.
You may be reading this now and thinking to yourself, "Ok, I can do that. Don't kill people. Check. Don't commit adultery. Check. This is pretty easy." But remember, those who were selling and money changing in the temple thought they were doing just fine, as well. They were providing a needed service, after all. They had lost sight of the true purpose of the temple and were concerned with commerce and personal profit instead.
Jesus tells us that if we have hatred in our hearts for our neighbor, then we have already killed him. If we look on our neighbor's wife with lust, we have already committed adultery. Jesus is full of zeal for his Father's house, as today's Gospel tells us. That means he has a zeal for us, as well. He wants us to be pure and perfect temples. We should guard ourselves with equal zeal against anything that might defile our temple.
Defend your faith. Stand up for it. Love your enemy, as Jesus taught. Be peaceful. But be strong. Be pure. But be powerful. And start by being pure and holy yourself. Remember that Jesus, your Lord, was no wimp. He defended his Father's house. Don't be afraid to do the same.