My good colleague and friend, Fr. Terry is moving house these days. He leaves us on the 19th of this month for St. Anthony’s parish in Pietermaritzburg. And he says if you are ever passing there on the way to Durban, be sure to hop in. He is just 5 minutes off the highway.
Psychologists tell us that, apart from the death of a loved one, perhaps the most traumatic experience a person can have is that of moving house. If you have been through this exercise then you know all about it. Despite the trauma involved, it has its benefits and one of them is getting rid of all the junk that we have accumulated since our last move. It could perhaps be argued that people’s dread of moving is directly proportionate to the amount of stuff they have gathered.
The Israelites were not unacquainted with moving house. The Exodus was one such move. As refugees on the run from Egypt, they didn’t have much clutter to worry about. They were simply leaving the house of slavery and the great drawing card was the house of freedom in the future. In between was a long, hazardous journey and the the two great institutions that enabled to survive are the focus of today’s readings, namely, the law and the temple. By their faithful observance of the law, they were sincerely surrendering themselves to God’s will, which, they believed, was expressed in the law. The temple was a very simple temple of meeting. Here the Jews had their liturgies, their feasts and sacrifices with which they expressed for the presence of God among them. It was all straigtforward and simple. God was the centre of their lives. They had little or nothing, so they totally relied on God for everything and the law and the “temple” were the continued assurance of God’s guidance and presence among them.
With the passing of centuries all this was to change. By the time of Jesus, both of these institutions had accrued multiple embellishments. Added to the essential ten commandments was a multiplicity of laws, written and oral, so precise and detailed that most ordinary people required an expert to interpret the law for them. The temple too was a far cry from the Tent of Meeing in Israel’s desert days. It was now under its third construction during Jesus’ ministry. The outward face of the temple was covered with plates of gold of great weight, and, at sunrise, it reflected a fiery splendour and made those who to looked upon it avert their eyes.
In today’s gospel Jesus went to this beautiful-to-behold temple and made a clear, unmistakable statement: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” He was not against the temple per se; he strongly objected to the desecration of the holy place by a marketplace mentality, one that took advantage of the poor. Jesus was clearing all the accumulated junk out of the Temple and restoring it to its original purpose, namely, worship of God.
Shocking as this must have been, the dialogue that follows must have been even more shocking where Jesus claims to be the new temple where God dwells. And later in the gospel he will announce to the Samaritan woman at the well, that in future all peoples will worship God “in spirit and in truth.” Worship of God is primary.
Worship is not a word which figures largely in our vocabulary today. Like “adoration,” it is a particularly God-centred word, ill-suited for our self-centred age where self-actualization is the key driver. Worship has no place on the upward mobility scale. Yet for all of that and especially when our ego trips take a tumble, we may well discover that worship has a place deep in our hearts. To worship means to acknowledge the transcendence of God, and his claim on us as our creator, and to respond appropriately. Rather than being just a relic of primitive religion, worship is an integral part of who we are as human beings. From deep within our self springs the desire to worship and adore God. Getting in tune with that desire, and expressing it through word and gesture is not only at the heart of prayer but at the heart of who we are.
Paul takes the claim of Jesus a step further. As Christians baptised into Christ, we too are temples of the Holy Spirit. This extraordinary claim has huge implications for all of us. It immediately begs the question: “How fit and becoming a place is my heart as a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit?” Jesus was in no doubt that the temple in Jerusalem needed to be cleansed of its marketplace mentality. But what of our own hearts? Have we allowed the junk to accumulate over the years. Lent is a time to allow Jesus to cleanse us, as he cleansed the Temple, leave our sins behind, and simplify our lives, getting rid of any needless clutter.
Becoming the temple of the Holy Spirit, of God’s presence living in our hearts, is the vocation of every Christian. It so happens that our true identity is not unlike that of the Israelites in the desert. We too are pilgrims who have here no lasting city. We, too, are moving house; are forever leaving the house of slavery so as to enter into and become temples of the Holy Spirit where our one wish and desire will be to worship God in spirit and in truth. Once again the psychologists my be right. Moving house is very traumatic. Letting go of our comfort zones and ego desires can be very painful but we are assured of God’s law to guide us and if we allow God to direct us we too may well join in with the psalmist and say that the law of the Lord is perfect, it revives the soul.
Sunday, 8 March 2015