There’s an ad that NY Times published entitled, “It’s time to quit the Roman Catholic Church and getting plenty of attention. It’s written by a Catholic woman enraged about the church’s teachings, practices, tradition and everything, including vicious attacks on the leaders who practically spend their lives to build up the church, inviting fellow Catholics and all to leave. Since it’s a free society, you can say whatever you want but it doesn’t mean you’re right. I honestly don’t even want to validate her claims because it’s the same old stuff I encountered many times.
Because the first reading from the book of Exodus talks about the Ten Commandments which literally challenges all sorts of modern thinking and godless ways of living, I thought the example above would very well play out in the message. The Decalogue, divine in its origin, is the heart and soul of the Mosaic covenant. Its history is quite interesting in that it emerged out of the struggles and victories, the joys and pains of the people God has chosen his own. Thus, it shouldn’t be understood merely as a series of rules usually interpreted in a negative way, motivated out of fear but on a positive light, a direction, a structure, a wonderful way of life benefiting those governed by it, a necessity in a communal life.
The first commandment is captivating…”I am the Lord, your God, you shall have no other gods besides me…” This is a statement that presents lots of trouble to those who think that religion is simply based on a personal viewpoint. While it is true that human expression is as ordinary as the air we breath and that the American system of education highly encourage opinion and autonomy, words like, For me or In my opinion or I think that or I don’t know about you but this is just for me… seem a good start in a conversations but actually an excuse, a defense. It’s either my way or the highway. When we deal with the Ten Commandments from which the church’s teaching hinges, it works differently. It’s not a matter of opinion and no fooling and/or playing around. It’s a serious business. We don’t act as individuals but as representatives of the people of God set apart for the healing of a broken world. Believe me and trust my system, God says and everything wll fall into place.
To get into the heart of the story of the cleansing of the temple, it’s important to know that the temple is the center of political, cultural, social and religious affairs. It’s always packed at any given point in time much more if the biggest celebration, the passover, is coming up shortly. Pilgrims across the world are all over the place to join in the festivities, to visit the temple and offer sacrifices. Most of them are barely making both ends meet and yet rich business owners (money changers) prey on them extracting huge commission in all transactions which no wonder made Jesus so mad (who doesn’t) that “he turned the tables upside down, made a whip out of cords” and harshly criticized the corrupt and unjust system. The ancient Jews fairly knew that giving back to God his due is a must, an annual requirement, an obligation and no free ride. What you give in return must be nothing but the best, not used or like new when it comes to quality control. So do we during lent. Through intense prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we cleanse our inner lives, our motives that we may be readily available on Easter. Amen.