Sent out, driven out

POST BY PGallagher

Can we imagine Jesus ushering us out of the temple? What would he say to us as we left? Thank you for your presence?  Thank you for your sincere prayers? Thank you for the love of God you have expressed here, and for the good life which it prompts and enables?  Would he make any allusion to our faults?  We have a mission to share our faith.  We go out from our prayers to the service of others and to witness to the Gospel.  The Lord sends us out.  He accompanies us, also.  His Spirit is always with us.  Nevertheless he despatches us to his work, to be his hands in the world.  He launches us, having encouraged us, built us up and trained us.  Christ’s training purifies us and clears our heart of debris and distraction. There is no abandonment or simply leaving us to get on with things.  We have the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit: the continual help of God.   Divine grace goes ahead of us preparing our way, readying the hearts of others to receive us, shaping providentially our whole life of discipleship and evangelism. We are not thrown out, ejected.  We are sent. We are missioned. We are enabled to be apostles to preach a crucified some an obstacle that they cannot get over to some madness, but to those who have been called…..a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God [1].

Driving out the irreverent is different from the sending of apostles. He drove them all out [2].   The moneychangers and tradespeople were expelled, not sent on a mission.  Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there [3].  The Lord marches towards the Paschal mystery of his death and resurrection.  In three days I will raise it up [4].  In Lent, we accompany him, preparing to remember his decisive Passover.  In our Lenten closeness to Christ, we receive from him help for ourselves but also that which we might share with others.  The march to Jerusalem is a pilgrimage which is also a training programme. In the course of this journey we discover much about ourselves.  He (Jesus) never needed evidence about any man, he could tell what a man had in him [5].  The Lord shares with us his understanding of us.  He wants to make us stronger in his service.  He sees in us what needs expelling.  Some of our weaknesses are incorporated into our life of discipleship. Others have to be dropped entirely.  Courage is given for this. Accompanying him, we witness his disapproval of how some are conducting themselves in the holy place.  Could he disapprove of us?  Take all this out of here [6].  Might our conduct in the house of prayer need vigorous amendment, or even a preliminary expulsion? Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out [7]. We are certainly being sent out on a mission, are we also be being expelled from the sacred precincts?

He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body [8].   Jesus foretells his resurrection as a rebuilding of the holy of holies. In three days I will raise it up [9].  He presents his passion and death as a destruction of the temple. During Lent we prepare to accompany the Lord in his Passover.  We are working up to Holy Week and the Triduum where there will be prayerful accompaniment of the One who suffers and rises.  He encourages his friends to be as close as possible to him, as the sanctuary that is his body is destroyed and then raised up again. Can you drink the cup that I must drink? [10]  It turns out that many of his disciples will abandon him at the time of destruction. However, they will return to rejoice at the resurrection and to receive the Holy Spirit and their mission.  We can catch ourselves watching from a distance as Jesus dies for our sins.  Among those who ran away from danger, we might count ourselves.  We have certainly done worse things than selling pigeons in the house of prayer.  The Lord responds to our wrongdoing with mercy and forgiveness, not with an improvised whip.  ‘That we who are bowed down by our conscience may always be lifted up by your mercy.’[11]   By the dramatic cleansing of the temple, Jesus reminds us that the sanctuary that is his body will be cruelly abused.  The temple, which he is, will be the victim of terrible violence.  When Christ scattered the money changers coins and knocked their tables over [12], he foretold the Passover at which the Son of God would be sold for silver, would be seized, would be mistreated and would be put to death.  This is the great sacrilege.  Does Jesus drive us away because of our part in it?  Cowardice might make disciples take to their heels?    Apostles might betray or deny their Master from greed, or fear or human respect.  Judas and Peter might try to explain themselves. We could babble our excuses. However the Lord shows no sign of rejecting us.  On the contrary, his patience and pardon seem very hard to exhaust. Is the vigorous purifying of the temple a reminder that that patience while great is not, in fact, inexhaustible?  Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them [13].  In the end, however, he will allow himself to be handed over to everyone and we will do our worst.  The sanctuary that is his body will be exposed to attack from all sides.  The violence of the cleansing of the temple shows us not anger but vulnerability. God’s weakness is stronger than human strength [14].

What sign can you show us that you should act like this?[15]   The Lord is hurt by the breaking of the commandments.  His body is the holy of holies which shelters the Law of God in the new covenant.  Irreverence in the temple is an emblem of disobedience. The flouting of what God has asked us to do is an assault on him.  If you love me you will keep my commandments [16].  We shrink back from Christ sometimes, not because he drives us away, or in horror at his sufferings, or because our courage, at the last minute fails us, but because we are unable to accept that he shows kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments [17].   When he sends us out to bear witness to him, we give shaky testimony.  Like fluttering pigeons, stampeding cattle or collapsing tables we are sometimes models of disorder not of fidelity.  Yet send us out he does.  Indeed, Jesus drives us out to share what we have so imperfectly understood.  He shoos us to our mission, heedless, it seems, of our unworthiness and our unreliability. The command of the Lord is clear, it gives light to the eyes [18].  The kindness of God, to which we often respond so strangely, is a source of joy, even when life is very hard.  The law of the Lord is perfect it revives the soul [19].  Lent simplifies.  ‘You have given your children a sacred time for the renewing and purifying of their hearts.’[20]    The Lord banishes from our hearts what has distracted us from keeping the commandments and loving him and our neighbour.  The driving out is rough but, in the end, Christ takes the violence on himself.  His body is the temple and it is cruelly treated so as to save us. While he is still doing all of this, he sends us out to tell others about him. We are not ready.  Our unsuitability is very evident.  Nevertheless Jesus sends us.  He does so lovingly, not roughly, but we sometimes feel driven not sent.  He ushers us out from our prayers into our life of service.  He encourages us and builds us up.  Does he mention our sins?   Do we catch a note of exasperation in his manner of pushing us out of the temple?  He sends us off with the Good News, imperfect as we are. Yet he is not sentimental about the imperfections.  If we are to do his work, some tables must be overturned, some cages must be wrenched open and their occupants freed to fly away. Jesus knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here.’   Driving us forward, he sends us out free.

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

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[1]              1 Corinthians 1.23-24

[2]              John 2.15

[3]              John 2.13-14

[4]              John 2.19

[5]              John 2.25

[6]              John 2.16

[7]              John 2.15

[8]              John 2.21

[9]              John 2.19

[10]            Matthew 20.22

[11]            Roman Missal, Third Sunday of Lent, Collect

[12]            John 2.15

[13]            John 2.24

[14]            1 Corinthians 1.25

[15]            John 2.18

[16]            John 14.15

[17]            Exodus 20.6

[18]            Psalm (19) 18b.9

[19]            Psalm (19) 18b.8

[20]            Roman Missal, Preface II of Lent