Do you have a special place you like to go to get away from it all? Is there somewhere you like to escape to when life overwhelms you and you need time to regain your perspective?
For some people, it could be the beach. Looking out on the ocean lends itself to reflection on the beauty of life. For many men, the garage is where they go to block out what might be troubling them. Tinkering around with the car or lawn mower can be a welcome distraction to other, harder-to-solve problems. Still others have a corner of their house where they can relax with a good book and allow the day’s worries to fade away.
Jesus had a special place as well. It was the temple in Jerusalem. It was there that He got away to pray and be with His Father. In the beginning of the gospel of Saint Luke, when Joseph and Mary discover that Jesus is missing, they find Him in the temple. He tells them, “Did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house?” Jesus loved the temple because God’s presence was found there. It was the place where the Heavenly Father dwelled on earth. Because He came to earth to bring people to God, it is natural that Jesus would want everyone to draw near to the temple, to feel welcome there and to experience the Heavenly Father’s love which was alive and active there.
This love that Jesus had for the temple in Jerusalem helps explain His strong reaction to the money-changers in today’s gospel. It is not the image we have of Him to take a whip, drive people and livestock out of the area and overturn tables. This gospel gives us a real sense of how strong Jesus was both physically and morally. Only a very strong man with an intensity of purpose and personality could accomplish such a feat by Himself.
He explains His passionate response in no uncertain terms: “...stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” The temple which should have been a space for prayer, sacrifice and reflection was being treated no differently than the bazaars which could be found all over Jerusalem. The place which was supposed to be set aside for worship was being exploited for commerce. Jesus would not stand for it. Even if it meant upsetting the religious leaders, He would restore reverence for His Father’s house.
We gather today in a space which is just as precious as the temple in Jerusalem. It is here that the Risen Lord makes Himself present to us in the people assembled here for worship, in the priest who acts in the person of Christ, in the word proclaimed and in the Eucharist we share. Jesus is in our midst. Therefore, this is a holy place, a place for worship and a place for prayer. This is our Father’s house.
Because of Jesus’ presence, this space deserves to be treated with respect. We stand as the gospel is proclaimed. We bow before the altar where our gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. We kneel as we pray over those gifts. Both before, during and after Mass, we maintain an appropriate silence and awe because of the mystery which unfolds before us and to create a space for prayer and reflection.
If Jesus were to appear suddenly before us, would He be pleased with the reverence we show to His Father’s house? Would He find us gathered in silent reflection before Mass or would He find us engaged in needless chatter? What would He think of the way we are dressed? Is it appropriate for the solemnity of this celebration or would it be more appropriate for a barbecue or football game? By the way we act, carry ourselves and dress, would Jesus know that we have the same reverence and love for His Father’s house as He did? Or, would He drive us all out and tell us to come back when we were better prepared to honor Him as He deserves?
There is a second dimension to Jesus’ outrage in today’s gospel. Though the temple was meant to be a place where Jews worship, there was a space set aside called “The Court of the Gentiles” where non-Jews could gather for prayer. It was precisely in this area that the money-changers had set up their market place. Doing so, they made it impossible for anyone other than Jews to pray at the temple. That is why, in Saint Mark’s version of this event, Jesus says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Therefore, Jesus was enraged not only that they were profaning God’s holy place but that they were not showing hospitality and welcome to all God’s people.
As a parish community, are we a place where people feel welcome? Does the sinner find forgiveness here? Does the saint find inspiration? Do the hungry find food and the tired find rest? Does the stranger find a home here among us? Is our parish truly a house of prayer for all people, a place open to everyone no matter his race, social status or level of faith?
Today, together with the Church throughout the world, we remember an historic event - the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. It marked the end of the Roman empire’s persecution against Christians and a time of unprecedented growth in the spread of the gospel. It is also a reminder to us that the places where we gather to worship are sacred. They are spaces set aside to encounter the Risen Lord. As such we must act with reverence and silence whenever we enter them but especially when we are gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. Furthermore, we should open our arms to embrace all peoples who seek God with a sincere heart since our Heavenly Father desires to gather all people to Himself.