“How can the young remain sinless by obeying your law?”
There are rules and regulations guiding every aspect of life whether we know about them or not. Nature itself is governed by some principles; for instance Isaac Newton while studying motion discovered that everything that goes up must come down under the law of gravity. Things actually go wrong when rules and regulations are neglected or flawed.
Rules and regulations are specifically made to maintain and sustain order and discipline wherever and whenever they are applied. Taking an instance from the game of soccer, we know that there are rules and regulations which are highly recommended for those who are participating in the game. In so far as a player does not infringe on any of the rules, the referee would not penalize the individual. Only defaulters are penalized. It is also important to note that obeying the rules of a game like soccer does not automatically grant victory though they are helpful for victory; we shall be coming back to this later.
In the First Reading today (Exodus 20:1-17), God gave the people of Israel rules that are meant to direct their lives and relationship with God and their neighbours. This is traditionally known as the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue). It will be fitting to begin by exploring the basic reason why God gave them the Ten Commandment.
As we have indicated earlier, they are rules of conduct in people’s relationship with God and their neighbours. They are meant to guide the people in their daily lives, they are meant to be standards for them to measure if they are doing well or not.
If we look at the Ten Commandments very well, we cannot see corresponding punishments for the infringement on each and every one of them as was obtainable in most ancient laws like the code of Hammurabi that existed about that time! Why? The answer can be found in our explanation above. The commandments are dependable measuring standards for our lives and relationships in our journey to reach God. They are meant to help us identify the rights steps in this journey. They are not meant to remove sin but to reveal sin so that we can avoid them in our journey. St. Paul made this clearer in his letter to the Romans (3:20):
For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
From the explanation we have above, it is clear that observing the commandments alone is not enough for our salvation. Just like observing the rules of the game of soccer does not guarantee victory in the game. Players must go beyond observing the rules and strive to score goals.
An appeal to our Lord Jesus Christ will help us here. In the Gospel of Matthew (10:17-22) we are told that a rich man came to Jesus Christ and asked what he must do to inherit the kingdom of God (eternal life). Jesus asked him to pay due attention to the commandments and he confirmed that he had been keeping them since his youth and our Lord said that he was lacking something and asked him to go and sell all he had and give the money to the poor; but he went away! The rich man in question believed that observing the commandment was enough but our Lord indicated from what he told him that beyond observing the commandments there is need to carry out some guided positive actions.
From what we have above, keeping the commandment must be accompanied by the performance of good deeds. We are saved not by the law but by our good works in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew (25:35-40) our Lord Jesus Christ presented the formula for entering into heaven and if we check the space very well he was making reference to good works beyond the observance of the law. One can keep all the commandments and still remain unacceptable to God if the person fails to match the commandments with works that are good and pleasing to God.
In the Gospel Reading today (John 2:13-25), we are presented with a clearer picture about the need for cleansing beyond observance of the law. Our Lord Jesus Christ was seen at one of his most radical moments. He entered the temple in Jerusalem and saw those who were buying and selling animals and he drove them all away with a whip and went further to OVERTURN the tables of the money changers.
There will be need for us to understand the events very well. The temple in Jerusalem was usually a beehive of various religious ceremonies. People came at various times to offer sacrifices prescribed by the LAW. People bought the animals for sacrifices they intend to make from sellers around the temple. They obtained the temple money from the money changers in exchange for the one with the impression of Caesar which is not used in the temple ceremonies. From the picture we have here, they were doing the RECOMMENDED things. It is easier to say that our Lord Jesus Christ drove them away because they were conducting business but that does not say it all.
A deeper insight into the event would show that our Lord went there to cleanse the temple and to convey the message that it is not all about observing the religious recommendations but also by spiritual performance. We might be observing the law while at the same time having a lot of things going on inside of us. It is not all about external religious ceremonies but more about internal sanctity. If we check very well our Lord was more concerned about those conducting business INSIDE the temple and not those OUTSIDE.
The temple represents us. St. Paul (1 Cor. 3:16-17) made us to know that we are the temple of God that should not be tampered with as it is God’s dwelling place. When Jesus was driving out the merchants and their merchandise from the temple he was simply demonstrating that our lives need to be cleansed by good works and prayers and not just by observing the rituals of the law: offering the external sacrifices that are recommended without living the inner life that is commendable. There are indeed many things that are robbing us of God’s graces in our external religious observances that lack internal spirituality.
It will be fitting for us to examine closely what our Lord actually did when he came into the temple. Firstly, he was not pleased with what the people were doing in the temple. Oftentimes we see and even encounter attitudes and dispositions that are contrary to the good news and we choose to keep mute and allow them to thrive. It is absolutely wrong not to speak out against sin and disobedience.
Our Lord demonstrated his anger by using a whip to drive both the merchants and their merchandise away. He identified something wrong and took a practical step to stamp it out. He went further to say that the temple should be a place of prayer but they have turned it into a den of robbers. Our lord not only identified a problem and acted, he also prescribed what should be done. Often we end up criticizing a person or situation without providing a remedy or solution as needed.
Our Lord Jesus Christ remains the central point of our Christian life. In him is the fulfilment of the laws and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). This is actually the point St. Paul was emphasizing in the Second Reading (1 Cor.1:22-25) when he maintained that the Christ crucified is the greatest treasure and central object of the good news which for many is a stumbling block and to others folly. However it is for those who are called power of God and wisdom of God.
If the commandments were sufficient for our salvation, God would not have taken the extra step of sending His Son our Lord Jesus Christ into the world. In fact, the commandments are better understood and expressed in the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. On one occasion, a lawyer came to Jesus Christ and asked him which is the greatest of the commandments. Answering, our Lord said: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbour as yourself. He even concluded by saying that all the Law and Prophets hang on the two.
Another significant thing our Lord did that should not be taken for granted was the OVERTURNING of the table of the money changers. When a table is overturned one sure thing that will happen is that the things on it will be pour away and it will become empty. This season is actually the proper time to overturn the tables of our lives to away all those things that are irrelevant. It is a time of self-emptying which our Lord Jesus Christ himself did in order to save us. St. Paul did mention that he (Jesus Christ) emptied himself taking the form of a slave though he was God (Phil. 2:6-11).
The commandments will become very efficient if they make us to overturn the tables of our lives and empty ourselves of unnecessary things. It is at this point that inner cleansing is inaugurated. The sixth commandment which for instance stated that we should not commit adultery should help us to overturn all the things (actions and words) that disposes us to impurity not just that very act. The same applies to all the others. (It is important to note that none of them is higher or lesser than others; they all have the same weight and measure).
As we march into the third week of Lent, let us be attentive to the Ten Commandments. We should focus on them not as ends but as guides that will enable us to perform more credible and creditable actions that will eventually lead us to eternal life which is the end.
Do have a very resounding Sunday and a blessed week ahead.
One response to “BEYOND THE DECALOGUE: THE CLEANSING OF OUR TEMPLE HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT (YEAR B) Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD”
Thank you Fr.