As a child, I once listened to a priest tell a story about what happened to one woman in an open market. It was on a First Saturday of the month when Catholic Mothers in Nigeria usually attend a special mass dedicated to them in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and they wear their beautiful Catholic Mother’s uniforms. The activities of the First Saturday, which includes a general meeting, usually take the most part of the day and some women would proceed to their different tasks from the Church after the activities without going home to pull their uniforms.
On this fateful day, the woman in the story headed to the market from the Church to sell her goods when another woman appears in the Catholic Mother’s uniform and greets her in the usual way “praise be to Jesus!” and the woman answers enthusiastically “honor to Mary!”. With that greeting and the identification by her uniform, the woman responded immediately to a request from her fellow Catholic Mother to give her some money to settle a customer as she promises to bring back the money quickly. Without asking further questions about her location in the busy open market, the woman obliged her, and that was the last time she ever saw her. It was later that she discovered that some people disguise as Catholic Mothers on such days and defraud unsuspecting people who consider them to be genuine Catholic Mothers.
In the Gospel Reading today (John 2: 13-25), we learn that our Lord Jesus Christ found people transacting business in the temple area and making a whip from cords he drives them away and says to them, “Take these out of here and stop making my father’s house a marketplace.” Our Lord’s reaction to the temple merchants leaves us with a lot of lessons and instructions for this Third Sunday of Lent.
First, we need to understand why people go to the market. The overarching reason would be to buy the things one needs to satisfy a desire or to sell what one has, to make a profit. However, some people go to the market neither to buy nor to sell. Some go to the market to steal, like the woman in our story while others come for other reasons. Underneath these reasons, there is always a personal goal or selfish intent. To achieve these, the marketplace breeds with unhealthy competition, lies, dishonesty, deception, antagonism, envy, quarreling, fighting and selfishness.
What prompted our Lord to chase the merchants away from the temple area couldn’t be about what they were selling because people buy those animals for offering in the temple like the dedication of a male child (Luke 2:22-24). There is a possibility that our Lord, who could see their hearts, discovered their contrary dispositions over the trade which includes the vices above and more. When he said take these things out of here he was not just refereeing to the physical animals, but to the spiritual animals in their hearts.
Today, we have many people in the church with even worse market-place and the house of trade mentality and dispositions. Is our Church free from people who are here to compete? Is our Church free from lies, dishonesty, quarreling, fighting, envy, antagonism, and selfishness? If our Lord would do what he did in the past in our day and age, he would use something stronger and more efficient than cords and whips. Today our Lord is still telling us “take these things out of here, remove the marketplace mentality from my house.” God tells us in the Oracle of Isaiah (1:16b), remove your wrongdoings from my sight.
The Church often runs below the divine expectations because people pay more attention to their marketplace mentality than they do to the word of God. The marketplace mentality takes us away from the commandments of God as the First Reading tells us (Exodus 20:1-17) while directing us to the commandments of the marketplace. Every commandment of God has a parallel opposition from the marketplace commandment.
Today, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves why we are here and what we are doing in the house of God. Are you here to show your face to people or to encounter God? Are you here to fight, hate, and compete or to forgive, love and encourage one another with fraternal kindness? Are you here so that people would see you and praise you or are you here to worship God in spirit and in truth; the kind of worship that pleases God (John 4:24)?
As we march into this third week of Lent, it is crucial for us to search ourselves and drop all the marketplace dispositions we may have adopted and acquired consciously or unconsciously. The season of Lent provides us with the framework for this essential self-assessment. May God help us to drop all our marketplace (house of trade) mentalities and take up the God’s House mentality that would help us to pay more attention to God’s commandment which is a helpful guide to our salvation. Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.