The Third Sunday of Lent: Cleansing the Temple
by Victor Hoagland, C.P.
Meditations and Prayers for the Third Week of Lent Cycle "B"
Ex 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25
detail of painting by Giotto di Bondone, 1266-1337
In Jesus’ time, the temple was the center of Jewish life and worship. Its long history began when King Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem, the city founded by his father, King David. Within it he placed the Ark of the Covenant, containing the stone tablets on which the commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai were inscribed.
The temple was a holy sign of God’s presence and continual guidance of his people.
The temple suffered a grave blow when it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Rebuilt by the Jews under the Persian ruler, Cyrus, it was threatened again in 167 BC when Antiochus Epiphanes tried to end Jewish worship in it and substitute a cult of his own. A fierce Jewish revolt under the Maccabees regained its possession and the temple was rededicated to the worship of God in 164 BC.
In 20 BC Herod the Great began a massive rebuilding of the temple on a grand scale as a sign of his own Jewish piety and to impress his overlords, the Romans. Herod’s temple — its ruins can be seen today in Jerusalem — stood till its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. Jesus worshipped there, while it was still being built.
Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, which three gospels report, was a startling and provocative act. Certainly, his words about destruction triggered an alarm for the guardians of this venerable place and caused them to take steps to stop this trouble-maker from Galilee. If he overturned the tables in the entranceway and drove people out, what would he do next?
But Jesus claimed he himself was the new temple; he was the new lawgiver who came to fulfill God’s command of love. He is God’s presence; the Word dwelling among us and in whom we dwell.
As once you came into the temple, come to us, Lord Jesus,
and cleanse us from all that makes us unholy.
Silence the noise that prevents us hearing you,
and help us see when we are blind.
Turn over the barriers that block your word,
drive away the distractions that stop our awareness of you.
Give us the wisdom of your commandments.
For you command only what is good,
We are temples of the living God,
help us to know who we are.
Illustration: detail from illustration by Gerard Horenbout in a Book of Hours of the Virgin, c. 1500