Sunday Homily for November 9, 2008
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (32A)
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
Why did Jesus get so angry in the Gospel for Sunday?
To tell the truth, his action does not seem justified. The merchants were just serving the people’s needs. Travelers had come from afar for the Passover with different forms of coinage and for sure without the proper animals to offer for sacrifice. Money-changers (like the ones in international airports) were needed, and there had to be a source of pigeons or sheep or whatever they were to offer.
His action is strange, especially in the Gospel of John (which we are reading today for the special feast). In this Gospel, Jesus is usually portrayed as the reconciler, the reality of God in human form, the one whose love overflows. And now he is throwing things around the room?
One easy response is that the merchants and money changers were selfish and conniving. They were cheating the people, like the proverbial butcher with his thumb on the scale. Some of us get angry today when we see the greed of huge corporations, of consumer culture, of war-lords in war-torn countries, of those who exploit the poor throughout the world. Righteous anger is quite in order.
This is a good answer and there is a lot of truth in it.
But doesn’t God forgive sinners, instead of whipping them with cords and—get this—instead of hurling tables onto the floor (what a mess) and launching the many, carefully sorted coins all over the temple alcove?
Was this an act of love? How could it be?
We should look at this point. Remember that Jesus’ heart issued forth from the very heart of the Trinitarian God, where loving is total. Temple sacrifices, he knew, were a way to reach out for a loving relationship with such a God. People were giving the very best they had, so the theory went, as their gift to their Lord: the first fruit of the harvest, or the best lamb from the herd. Sacrifices were symbolic gifts of covenant with God.
His heart knew that, at last, God had now given his own very best gift of the covenant, his own finest lamb, to be the first fruit of the human race. This lamb, Jesus, would seal the covenant afresh, open whatever doors had been closed between God’s transcendence and the grubby, earthy world of flesh.
Knowing all this. Jesus went to Jerusalem and to the temple. No doubt he expected to find people enacting their part of the old covenant more or less well, tendering their gifts to the transcendent love of God.
Instead he found the noisy market now pushing its way into the temple itself. The “bottom line,” money, turned out to be its motivation, leaving interaction with God second or last. Like Martha, merchants and worshippers were distracted from the real God who was present in their midst.
This must have broken Jesus’ heart. NO, he said. Your HEART has to be the bottom line, not greed. STOP IT. Self-indulgence is WRECKING the covenant of love. He was passionate, not some pasty faced statue. He was human and he lost his temper, but only in proportion to the wrong being done.
Soon enough the violence would come full circle. Jesus would be the slaughtered lamb, the perfect sacrifice. Every Mass is a chance for you and me, all of us, to join Jesus as part of this loving Paschal sacrifice, this putting God first, not second, not last in our lives.