John 2:13-25, Third Sunday of Lent
Whether it is wet or dry or about stocks, a market is a place of exchange. Goods and services are traded there and the medium of exchange is usually money.
When Jesus makes a scene in the Gospel story today by scourging the market, he does so for one reason: his Father’s house had become an exchange.
“He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’”
This purging of the temple is supposed to cleanse us. We can start considering a number of places that may need cleansing.
In the first place, a market makes us reflect on what we have been buying and selling all our lives. Yes we are shoppers and sellers all, but what have we been busy about selling and buying? We sell something so we can buy some other thing. We buy stuff so we can sell stuff. For instance, we sell what we produce through our jobs so we can buy what we need and want. We do well to discern the patterns and priorities of what we have been buying and selling all our lives.
If there is any cleansing needed here, it might be in the quality of what we’ve been choosing to buy and sell, the condition of our freedom, and the extent of disorder in these choices and in our lives.
Secondly, a market is a place where people make a living (at least for those who are selling). Today we are being asked again what that means, to make a living. Surely a market cannot be the only place where we make a living. It is after all just a place of exchange. The making-a-living happens elsewhere (even for brokers who make a living out of brokering).
The cleansing happens when we begin to trace where in our lives this making-a-living happens, and if it is truly a life we are making. Hanapbuhay. Finding life. Some cleansing is in order when we cannot even find life when we are making a living.
Thirdly and most importantly, the transactions that make up a market makes us wonder about the hold that transactions have in our relationship with each other and with our God.
For instance, there are transactions galore in politics. The horsetrading that happens there is to be expected since politics is after all the art of compromise. The politics just gets perverted when the unscrupulous leverage power (which they got or bought from the people) to get what they want for themselves.
Religion itself can get mired in the transactional. Like many things human, religion can be a market. Religion can be commodified and, just like bad bureaucracies, can degrade into a crude form of commerce. The ten commandments in the first reading today can be reduced to a set of regulations or rules that are obeyed to gain entry into the Father’s house. Salvation then becomes a matter of compliance or procurement.
Don’t get me wrong. Rules are good, and good rules even better. We need them, like traffic lights, to keep us from colliding with each other and hurting ourselves. But in contrast with what works in a command-and-control economy, these commandments are supposed to be more than just commands to make us behave. And contrary to what we find in a market-based economy, God is not a seller of commandments and we are not mere buyers of these.
The cleansing of the temple challenges us to accept a more radical view of the way God relates to us. When Jesus purges the temple of all that is twisted about the market, he is offering us the graciousness and utter liberality of the love of God. After all, the love of God (like most true love) is free. There is no caveat emptor, no warning on the label, no strings attached.
The ultimate currency in this exchange is a person, the person of Jesus Christ, his body and blood, given for the life of us all.
Thus are we to contemplate the crucified Christ, which to the Jews was a stumbling block and to the Greeks sheer madness. As Paul explains to the Corinthian church in the second reading today, on the cross, in Christ we see the very power and wisdom of God. On the cross, we realize that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” On the cross, in this new temple that is the body of Christ, we enter a new place of encounter with God.
By no means are all these mysteries marketable. And that would just be fine really. After all, the true exchange that matters is not something we can get from or bring to market.