Our first reading from the Book of Exodus largely demonstrates God’s love for us when He provides a covenant. Recalling all His mighty deeds—done on our behalf—He then invites us to enter into a holy friendship with Him. That friendship will guarantee us “freedom from slavery” and every gift we will ever need in order to be able to rest in God’s company each Sabbath…each week. Such an offer can inflame us, make us grow more intense in our feeling toward God.
Yes, the great covenant offered to us—and maintained even to this day—proves the goodness, the wisdom, the power and the strength of God who loves so completely.
And if such a demonstration were not enough for us, our Gospel gives us a further insight into God’s passionate love, as seen in the person of Jesus. Bringing to mind the sentiments of the Scriptures…“Zeal for your house consumes me,” as He enters the temple area. This zeal signifies an intensity of love that Jesus possesses, whereby He cannot tolerate anything that is repugnant to His love…so, to have zeal for God and for God’s House finds Jesus unable to patiently endure anything contrary to the honor of God, whom He loves above all else.
This is the kind of zeal we see in Jesus in today’s gospel.
But why is he so upset: why is He so violent in this encounter with the moneychangers? We need to step back for a moment and soak in the atmosphere…and then we need to look a little closer and spy what is at the heart of such an intense emotion.
First, step back: Jesus is entering Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Feast of Passover. He has made the distant journey, on pilgrimage to the Holy City in order to recall and commemorate the solemn feast of deliverance from oppression that the Israelites were given centuries earlier by God. And with a view toward that same freedom from oppression, He arrives at the Temple. And instead of finding a place where all people can come and find free access to the living God in worship, Jesus finds the many obstacles that were put in their way…He finds a new form of oppression…an oppression that perverts the worship that is due to Yahweh-God. Greed is the motivator here, cheating is the activity at the Temple, religious rhetoric replaces authentic and free worship. No wonder Jesus’ zeal is inflamed.
Now, look a bit closer to see what this oppression is really doing.
Notice the doves, above all the other animals, being sold for sacrifice. After traveling great distances and many days to come to the Temple, every Jew was obliged to offer a sacrifice of some kind, in thanksgiving fr the freedom from oppression their ancestors—and presumably, they themselves—received from God’s own generous goodness. Oxen, cattle and sheep were most fitting, but for those who were poor and could not afford such a sacrifice, they were reduced to offer birds of plenty instead…like a simple dove. And yet, with the common practices of extortion and gouging, the poor couldn’t even afford to offer a small bird to Yahweh, they could not fulfill the mission for which they set out days and miles earlier. They were forced to take what little money they had for food and shelter, and in the name of religion purchase a measly sacrifice with money that was sorely needed. And so, such an act being done in the temple area, and in the name of religion, becomes an act of significant injustice—a new oppression for the already poor, the already suffering. Believers cannot afford to have such an attitude toward the poor, and Jesus’ zeal rises up and consumes Him, and all those around Him.
That’s what’s happening in our gospel and inside the very being of Jesus, and He reacts with intense zeal.
And this is not the only time He’ll react in the face of oppression and suffering and injustice.
In just a few short weeks, we will witness again the zeal of Christ. He will have to acknowledge that sin enslaves us and there is only one remedy, there is only one path that He can walk in order to establish our true and lasting freedom. Yes, we’re drawing closer to Holy Week and to the Paschal Mystery. The zeal we witness in the Temple this morning is just the beginning…the conclusion is yet to be witnessed…and it will again be shared with us in the coming days and weeks. His passionate zeal—while it takes a different form…the form of surrender, docility and humble love—will be no less. By His actions, we will be made free.
Stay with Him.