“In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple. He said, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (John 2:14-16)
March 8, 2015
Third Sunday of Lent
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“A husband went to the sheriff’s department to report that his wife was missing: HUSBAND: ‘My wife is missing. She went shopping yesterday and has not come home.’ SERGEANT: ‘What is her height?’ HUSBAND: ‘Gee, I’m not sure. A little over five-feet tall.’ SERGEANT: ‘Weight?’ HUSBAND: Don’t know. Not slim, not really fat.’ SERGEANT: ‘Color of eyes?’ HUSBAND: ‘Never noticed.’ SERGEANT: ‘Color of hair?’ HUSBAND: ‘Changes a couple times a year. Maybe dark brown.’ SERGEANT: ‘What was she wearing?’ HUSBAND: ‘Could have been a skirt or shorts. I don’t remember exactly.’ SERGEANT: ‘What kind of car did she go in?’ HUSBAND: ‘She went in my truck.’ SERGEANT: ‘What kind of truck was it?’ HUSBAND: ‘Brand new 2015 Ford F150 King Ranch 4X4 with eco-boost 5.0L V8 engine special ordered with manual transmission. It has a custom matching white cover for the bed. Custom leather seats and “Bubba” floor mats. Trailering package with gold hitch. DVD with navigation, 21-channel CB radio, six cup holders, and four power outlets. Added special alloy wheels and off-road Michelins. Wife put a small scratch on the driver’s door.’ At this point the husband started choking up. SERGEANT: ‘Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll find your truck.’” (Original source unknown)
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It’s all about right relationship. Clearly, this husband’s life has lost proper focus, more out of benign neglect, I suspect, than conscious choice. The passion with which he now describes his truck has replaced the ardor with which he once spoke of his wife. Where attention to the smallest detail used to be a hallmark of his marital relationship in its earliest days, his truck has now consumed his zeal.
While we laugh at the story because it’s such an extreme, we might also be cringing just a bit as we realize that our own life may have become a bit unfocused. Indeed, this story prompts us to ask what has become of our own youthful passion. Has the object of my earliest love changed? Indeed, has my heart strayed?
As easily and invisibly as our proper relationship one to another may digress over time, so it can happen with our relationship to God. In fact, it’s probably easier to wander from God because the divine nature is invisible and mystical. It’s one thing to embrace a wife; quite another to embrace God. Wandering from either seems a life-long possibility.
The gospel passage we hear today is also about right relationship. St. John writes, “In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple. He said, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!’” (John 2:14-16)
Yes, right relationship gone astray: people having allowed reverence for the hallowed house of God to disintegrate, the temple becoming merely the setting for base human enterprise.
In our own day, a prophet among us invites us to consider the very same dynamic that Jesus addresses in today’s gospel passage. Today’s prophet chases no enterprising merchants from the temple; rather, he calls us to consider the reality that the Church has made accommodations to culture that sets it at odds with what Jesus wants of us individually and communally. Today’s prophet, in recalling the Church to a right relationship with the world, presents a vision at once both terrifying and exhilarating.
In his book, "Faith and the Future," written in 1969, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, who was to become Pope Benedict XVI, presented a vision of the future that seems to be playing itself out dramatically at the very moment. I quote a brief excerpt from the book:
“The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes she will lose many of her social privileges. As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.
“It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be long and wearisome. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. [People] in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as [humanity’s] home, where [it] will find life and hope beyond death.”
Written in 1969 by a man who never imagined the wild possibility that he’d one day be Pope, these words present a harrowing vision. Today, as we witness the vision having become reality, we find ourselves saddened and angered—just like Jesus was when he found the temple being desecrated. Driving out the merchants and money-changers, right relationship was restored. It’s what we, the 21st century Church, await in blessed hope.