Red Hot!

I agree with my confrere, Fr. Gabriel. We are allowed to have an occasional meltdown. And boy, does Jesus have a meltdown at the Temple. It is called righteous anger. The idea that all four evangelists include it in their Gospels leads us to suspect that the cleansing of the temple is an historical event.

So, what is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? What boils his blood? Here is a possible scene. A good religious person is required to offer sacrifice at the Temple. Only the rich can afford a lamb. The poor can only afford two turtledoves. The problem here is that often the poor bring their own turtledoves. So, to make more money the “sacrifice supervisor” who inspects them declares them unclean, finding a spot or a mismatched feather. This forces the poor to buy a sacrificial offering from the priests at the temple. In other words, it is a temple scam; institutional sin; sacrilegious robbery!

Some people use this scene at the Temple for a justification of violence against an enemy. But nowhere do we read Jesus beating people or killing others. What we do hear is zeal. It means, “to be fanatical about something.” The root word for zeal means boiling metals or something that is red hot. The word is so intense that the meaning goes two ways. We can be zealous- red hot for something, or, we can be jealous- red hot about someone. St. John paints Jesus as zealous. He is red hot about the temple corruption. He is red-hot going crazy with a whip of cords, spilling coins and telling the ones selling turtledoves, “Get rid of these, and stop making my Father’s dwelling place an emporium.”

A writer named Dan Clendenin says that he reads the cleansing of the temple as “a warning against false security.” “Religious presumption, pathetic excuses, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual complacency, nationalistic zeal, political idolatry and economic greed” are some of those tables Jesus will turn over in our temples.

Now, it is no secret that Pope Francis is turning over a lot of tables at the Vatican. We hear a lot about the “Francis Effect,” in other words, WWFD, “What Would Francis Do?” Some people think that as he cleanses the temple of the Church, he is going to change dogmatic teaching. But people who believe this do not really know him. What Pope Francis is changing is own attitude and action: shunning a ten room apartment, riding in compact cars, sharing Church supervision around the table, greeting people with a smile and wave, hugging the poor, kissing babies, preaching with simple words that form vivid metaphors, etc., etc., etc. So, as Pope Francis transforms the corrupt parts of our Catholic Church, we should take a look at our corruption. Begin with the Ten Commandments. The first three speak about my relationship with God: Love God; Love God’s Name; Make God central in Worship One Day a Week. The last seven speak about my relationship with my neighbor: honor parents; no killing; no adultery; no stealing; no false witness; honor private property- people, places, things. When I am “red hot” about God and my neighbor I know that they assist me in keeping my temple in good order.

In the words of St. Paul, a lot of people look for signs and wisdom. We find our wisdom and signs in Christ Crucified at the Eucharist where he strengthens us daily to prevent us from having that occasional meltdown.

 The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

3rd Sunday of Lent B

Abbey Church Crucifix


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