Today’s Gospel reading recalls a time when Jesus did some spring cleaning to the temple. With the Coming of Christ, in his presence, his mission, something new is happening. The relationship between God and God’s people is changing. Temple worship, in all of its details and prescriptions for every situation, just won’t work anymore. The Newness of Christianity was far more than just a change in buildings or ceremonies.
Christianity is a change of heart, a new attitude, a new spirit, a whole new way of understanding God, and people, and the relationship between the two. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Christ tells the people, worship from now on must be in spirit and in truth.
This is the avenue of the encounter between God and God’s people. The real temple from now on was Christ himself, literally his own body, and that of everyone who bears his name. So it was the emptiness, the uselessness, the silliness of the old forms that Christ overturned in this symbolic action.
The idea that God could possibly be honoured or impressed by a ceremony, when God can only be honoured by a good life, by those who espouse God’s values and live by them. Sin can only be countered by repentance and reconciliation, by that change of heart.
It is not what goes on outside of a person that makes Holiness; rather, it is what goes on in the heart.
In Christ’s own words, if there is some conflict, some unresolved, unforgiven hurt between you and another, go first to that person, before you come to the temple to worship. Until you do, or at least try, worship will not mean much. Don’t be so quick to criticise what you see or the shortcomings of those around you. Look inside yourself. There is more than enough there to keep any one of us busy.
So there probably isn’t any better Lenten image on which to base our reflection this week.
Cleansing the temple, making it new again, making it pure, simply getting rid of everything that has become pointless, empty of spirit and truth. That is precisely the purpose of penance, of self-discipline. That is what each of us must do in our own temple, our own lives.