Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on March 8, 2015 at the 8:00AM and 10:30AM Masses
The current federal laws fill 52 leather-bound volumes, and two new volumes have yet to be printed. There are an estimated five thousand different crimes that can be committed if these laws are broken. That doesn’t even include state or local laws. For example, I cannot own chickens because Richland Township requires you to have at least 2 acres of land to have them. There are so many laws, and yet their numbers are growing all the time. A coworker was pulled over by the police this past week because they had only cleared enough ice and snow from their windshield to make just a very small hole, but they did not receive a ticket because there is no law about requiring you to have clean windows to drive. Thankfully a couple of days ago, a bill requiring people to clear off their vehicles of ice and snow before driving them was put together. There are so many laws to make sure that we do the right thing, and so often we are not doing the right thing.
That’s why God was speaking to his chosen people in today’s first reading, so that they would be sure to do the right thing: to love God, to keep holy his name and his Sabbath, to honor their parents, to not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet. So God gave them the Commandments. How Many? Ten. Wrong! It’s one of my favorite trick questions. Jews received and observe 613 commandments that are found throughout the Old Testament. There are so many laws, even during biblical times! What we know as the Ten Commandments they know as the Ten Words, ten categories that the 613 commandments are grouped under. During biblical times they had to be memorized because they were hand copied and expensive. They couldn’t be downloaded to a Kindle, viewed on an iPad, or picked up at a checkout counter. They were important because each of the 613 commandments were given to Moses directly by God and so were considered equally important.
As a devout Jewish rabbi, Jesus would have known the 613 commandments inside and out. Of course throughout the Gospels the scribes and Pharisees confront Jesus because he and his disciples did not fulfill all of the obligations of the Law – not performing ceremonial washings, not fasting, not observing the Sabbath. Jesus knew the law, but he knew it was more important to do the right thing.
That is the background for today’s gospel reading. Each day there were thousands of people at the temple in Jerusalem fulfilling the obligations of the law – giving a half-shekel offering to the temple treasury, making a sacrifice to God, or simply praying and worshiping God, but most were not doing the right thing. The temple accepted only Hebrew shekels, not the Roman or Greek coins used in everyday trade, so moneychangers were exchanging coins for a profit. Because you were to give your best to God, only unblemished animals were sacrificed. Animals offered for sacrifice were carefully inspected and were often denied for very minor faults, so vendors were selling “perfect” animals for sacrifice. All of this was occurring in the outer courtyard of the temple, where many people were trying to pray and worship God. Many people, especially women, children, Gentiles, and lepers, were forbidden from entering the temple and had to remain in the noisy courtyard. Imagine you are in the narthex trying to pray and worship, without a sound system, struggling to hear what’s going on inside here, as people are calling out sale prices!
That is the scene as Jesus arrives at the noisy and crowded temple. He sees the obligations of the law being fulfilled, but people not doing the right things. He did not see the perfect offerings and sacrifices that his Father desired, contrite and humble hearts. He did not see a house of prayer, but of chaos. So Jesus becomes angry and uses a whip to get his point across. I discussed my homily with several coworkers and they could not believe that Jesus used a whip. One of them said, “So what you’re saying is that Jesus just lost it.” Not all. We think of anger as bad or evil, but anger is simply an emotion and can be righteous, like when we get angry about abortion, poverty, racism, terrorism, or any other injustices. Jesus sees injustice in his Father’s house and decides to do something about it, to do a little house cleaning. Jesus becomes like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, using a whip to rid the temple of the bad guys. It should be noted that, like Indiana Jones, Jesus uses a whip for good, to be the hero and save the day, and that nowhere in the gospel does Jesus strike anyone. Jesus was certainly doing the right thing.
This coming week we reach the halfway point of Lent. It’s a good time for us to reflect on whether we are doing the right thing in our Lenten journey with Christ, to pull out our spiritual whips and do some spiritual housecleaning:
- Do we need to clear out the noise and chaos of our lives so that we can pray and worship God.
- Are we following the rules, obligations, and traditions of Lent: penance, fasting, abstinence, and attending Mass, the Stations of the Cross, and Lenten programs, without the humble and contrite heart that draws us closer to God?
- Are we giving alms and making offerings and sacrifices, without the humble and contrite spirit that draws us closer to others?
It’s never too late to begin to do the right things.
It’s important to note that the Commandments and the Law were much more than a simple list of do’s and don’ts to the chosen people of God. They saw them as they truly are, the very Word of God. These words were a covenant between God and his people. Later in Chapter 20 of the book of Exodus, where today’s reading about the Ten Commandments is found, God promises Moses and the people that if they keep the covenant by following the law, “In every place … I will come to you and bless you.”
He has indeed come to us and blessed us more than we could ever have hoped in the form of his beloved Son, the Word of God made flesh, the bread come down from heaven, both of which we receive each time that we come to Mass. He came to show us how to do all of the right things. But most importantly, he came to fulfill the law and die on the Cross that we might live. There are certainly many laws, but one truth – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Rejoice and be glad!