March 7, 2021 – Third Sunday of Lent
Readings: Exodus 20:1-17 / 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 / John 2:13-25
I will be delivering this homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
A young man and his fiancée were big NFL fans. Despite the fact they had no tickets for Sunday’s game and the game was a sell-out, they made the trip to the stadium on game day hoping they might find a scalper selling tickets at a reasonable price.
However, when they walked the streets surrounding the stadium in search of tickets, they had no luck. Just when they had determined it was not meant to be, they heard a voice call out, “Tickets!” A man standing alone near the corner held a handmade TICKETS sign over his head.
The couple ran to him. They were informed by the scalper that he had only one ticket. “We’ll take it!” yelled the young man enthusiastically, digging into his pocket and counting out the amount needed to make the purchase.
The young man then looked at his fiancée and said…
Now – I’m going to pause our story for just a moment to offer a disclaimer. Oftentimes when I preach, I share stories drawn from personal experience. I want to make it clear that I am not the young man in this story, nor do I endorse the words he is about to say.
Back to the story…
The young man had just enthusiastically purchased a single ticket to the game. He then looked at his fiancée and said, “I can’t believe we were only able to get one ticket. What will you do while I’m at the game?”
The young lady was a bigger NFL fan than he was and was disappointed at the outcome. Even so, she set her own desires aside. She decided to make this sacrifice for him.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “Enjoy the game.” And the young man ran happily toward the stadium entrance.
The young lady decided to go to the restaurant down the street to watch the game and wait for her fiancé to join her after the game. As she headed that way, she saw a woman running frantically toward the stadium. “Excuse me,” the woman called to her. “Do you know where Gate 6 is?”
Since the young lady had time, she said she’d be happy to escort her to the gate. “Thank you so much,” the woman said when they arrived at the gate. “I hate to be late for games.” Then she added, “Say, I have an extra ticket, you wouldn’t want to go to the game, would you?”
Turned out the woman she helped was the mother of one of the players, so the young lady sat on the 50-yardline in VIP reserved seats, had fabulous food and drink brought to her throughout the game, and spent the afternoon socializing with family members of several of the players on the team.
Meanwhile, her fiancé, the young man that had purchased the single ticket from the scalper, had been ushered to his seat in Row double-X. He was too high up to catch all the action on the field, but if he sat on the edge of his seat and leaned to the left, the large concrete column in front of him did not completely obstruct his view
Today’s readings call us to examine our priorities. The question being posed is this: Are we placing our own desires ahead of our Christian duty to love God and others?
When I climbed inside of today’s gospel, I got an interesting view of what was going on in the temple that day. I saw the moneychangers that had their tables flipped over by Jesus. I saw the marketeers that watched Jesus drive their livestock out of the temple with a whip. I saw the Pharisees that pointed at Jesus with indignation.
I saw Jesus and felt his anger, but where was it being directed?
He did not seem to be upset with people. Oddly enough, Jesus seemed angry at the temple itself – or at least at the activities taking place there, at what it had become. He was angry to see how misguided the actions were. There was a complete lack of understanding of what God expected.
God didn’t want believers to sacrifice turtledoves, sheep, and goats. He wanted THEM! He wanted them to sacrifice themselves – to offer themselves to him – not their blood, but their heart and soul – he wanted to be a priority in their lives.
Day after day Jesus watched people spill the blood of sacrificial animals at the foot of the temple’s altar, then exit the temple, only to treat their fellow man with contempt. How many times had he seen people walk by those in need, offering them nothing, only to spend money on sacrificial animals at the temple? How many times had he heard the Pharisees recite ancient prayers in the temple, yet question Jesus when he healed the sick on the Sabbath or chose to dine in the house of a sinner?
This gospel story is often referred to as the cleansing of the temple. Once inside the gospel, I discovered I was the temple! Jesus was cleansing ME!
We give lip service to God, providing him with what we think will suffice, then we go about our lives selfishly seeking to satisfy our own desires – searching for something else to satisfy us, something else to fill us.
In the first reading from Exodus, God reveals the Ten Commandments to Moses. The first commandment establishes our priority. “I, the LORD am your God, you shall have no other gods besides me.”
The remainder of the commandments flow from that established priority; each subsequent commandment warns us to avoid actions that direct us away from that priority. When we break any of the commandments, we are placing our own desires ahead of God’s will.
Which brings us to the lesson these readings provide for us. How can we apply this message to our daily lives? What does it mean to prioritize God? Isn’t going to Mass and praying enough?
Yes, God wants us to go to Mass. Yes, God wants us to pray. However, are we also mistreating our neighbor? Are we lacking in mercy and compassion? Are we judgmental and intolerant? Do we step over the poor and marginalized in the pursuit of our desires?
If going to Mass and praying are the sole expression of our faith, we are no different than the moneychangers, livestock peddlers, and Pharisees Jesus drove from the temple. We are no different then the worshippers sacrificing animals at the foot of the temple’s altar.
The Lenten season calls us to cleanse our temple – to drive out the misplaced priorities that clog our path to the true temple of faith. We must embrace and live out the first commandment: “I, the LORD am your God, You shall have no other gods besides me.”
Cleansing our temple means making God a priority in our lives once again.
Cleansing our temple gets us a better seat at the game.