Third Sunday of Lent
Since the Passover was near, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival with his fellow Jews. When he arrives at the temple area, he drives out those who were selling animals for sacrifice as well as the money changers, saying, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” When the temple authorities (the “Jews”) demanded a sign from Jesus for what he had done, he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” After Jesus was raised from the dead his disciples remembered what he had said. They realized he was speaking of the temple of his body, and came to believe the Scripture and what he had spoken. John adds that Jesus was able to recognize true belief in him because he could read the human heart.
The idea of where one lives or dwells is perhaps the central theme of the fourth gospel. John begins his gospel by telling us that Jesus is the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. “In the beginning” the Word was dwelling with God, and the Word was God. Immediately after his baptism in the Jordan, we hear the first words that Jesus speaks in the fourth gospel. He sees two disciples of John the Baptist following him and says to them, “What are you looking for?” They reply. “Rabbi, where do you dwell?” Jesus replies, “Come, and you will see.”
We already are alerted to the fact that John’s gospel is a gospel of incarnation. Its essence is sacramental or symbolic: the extraordinary is actualized in the ordinary. The eternal Word becomes present and is revealed by dwelling among us. Thus we realize that the disciples’ question about where Jesus is dwelling is not merely about a street address somewhere in Galilee. When Jesus replies “Come, and you will see,” we realize he also means seeing with the eyes of faith. When he speaks to his disciples, we realize he is also speaking to us.
The astonishing good news that Jesus reveals is that anyone who believes in him will dwell where he dwells, with the Father. John’s gospel is the narrative of the signs that Jesus does so that those whom he encountered then, and those who hear the gospel now might believe and have life in him (20:30-31). John presents various types of people who refuse to see the “extraordinary” through the signs, and also the beloved disciples who do see and come to believe in Jesus.
Today’s gospel is a prophetic warning so that we will not be like the temple authorities who do not see that Jesus is the one sent by God to dwell among us in new ways. Jesus’ action in the temple is in the tradition of the prophets. They rebuked the people who thought they were safe by coming to the temple while committing all sorts of abominations (Jer 7). Jesus like the prophets before him loved the temple, but he is warning us that even the most holy created realities can become obstacles to believing in him and believing what he has spoken. The temple truly was the dwelling place of the divine presence: the holy place of prayer and communion with God. The temple authorities believed this, but they had narrowed their vision, and thus were unable to see that Jesus himself was the new temple. He himself is the indestructible dwelling place of the divine presence, of prayer and communion with God.
We can reduce the meaning of the Christian sacraments to suit our own purposes, and thus close our eyes to other signs of the divine presence to which the sacraments point. For Catholics the most holy sacrament of the Risen Lord’s presence is the Bread of the Eucharist. It is possible to believe in this sacramental divine presence and at the same time to ignore what Jesus has spoken to us of his presence in the least of his brothers and sisters. It might give us pause to note that the criterion of final judgement that Jesus tells us about is not whether we recognize his presence in the Eucharist, but whether we respond with compassion to his presence in the least of his brothers and sisters (Mt 25:31-46).
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB