It seems, from the gospel reading of John, that the temple had become more about commerce and trade than it was about right worship and praise in the presence of the Father. It was sad for Jesus to findthat in the Father’s house salvation and forgiveness were commodities to be bought and sold. God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk.” (Is 55,20) Salvation was a grace that the Father desired to lavish upon his people. It frustrated Jesus to think of all of the obstacles that people had to overcome just to visit the Father in his own house. When one goes to another’s house to visit one expects to be received with hospitality and grace and to be led to a place where there can be a meeting and fellowship with the person we are visiting. The Father’s house should be a house of prayer and communion where we can rest in the Father’s presence and be able to draw nearer to him in knowledge and love. One does not expect to have to pass through the obstacles of money changers and vendors. Jesus knew that his Father was not that way and that he would not like what had become of temple worship. From the time when he was a boy, Jesus had a love for “the Father’s house”. He told his mother: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2,49) Now it seems that the temple worship was more about the pocketbook than about the heart.
In clearing out the temple of the vendors and moneychangers, Jesus is effecting a prophetic sign that shows us his deep desire to remove the obstacles that have been created by the world to separate us from God and keep us from intimate communion with him. Jesus himself is the sign and he offers his body and his death on the cross as the means of bridging the distance between heaven and earth and making the encounter with God more immediate and available. Soon the temple cult will be destroyed and in its place will come a means of worship that will be raised up in the resurrection whereby, through Christ, all will have immediate access to the Father and Christ himself will be the lamb of sacrifice that is freely offered to cleanse us of our sins, make us holy, and allow us to come into the presence of God in the Father’s house. The Father’s house will be a true place of hospitality and welcome and all will have access to the Father through the Body of Christ, the Church.
Through our consecration in the Spirit in baptism the heart of each believer becomes a temple in which we may encounter God in the indwelling Spirit. Our hearts become “the Father’s house” and become a place of prayer in which God may be known, adored and worshipped. The Father’s house should be a house of prayer where the heart and the mind can be lifted up to heaven.
At times our hearts may also look more like the ancient temple of Jesus’ time filled with commerce, buying and selling, deal making and exchanges. Many times we may enter into our hearts to encounter the Father and rather than resting peacefully in his presence we may be seeking to make a deal, trade one favor for another, work out some compromise in our life or in some other way negotiate with the obstacles in our lives that keep us from a true encounter of love and grace.
In Lent we are called to a spring cleaning of the Father’s house that is our heart. We truly need to “clean house” and remove the obstacles of sin, selfishness, willfulness and disobedience that keep us separated from God. The Father’s house of our heart should be a house of prayer and there should be a true and fervent zeal for the Father’s house to keep it clean and always available for divine communion. We need to enter into the house of our heart and with the same zeal that Jesus shows, clear out the merchants of the world and worldly philosophies and place Christ, the one mediator between God and humanity, at the center of our heart again. Jesus knows our human nature. John tells us: “But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (Jn 2,24f) He knows our weaknesses and he knows the thoughts of our hearts and so we need to make the temple of our heart once again into a place of hospitality and warmth, a place of obedience in seeking the Father’s will and a place where Jesus can feel at home and entrust himself to us in love. Now is the time for us to do that work in preparation for our encounter with the Father and the new life that will be ours at Easter.