19 November 2010

No thieves in the temple

33rd Week OT (Fri)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Ss. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Jesus enters the holy city and delivers what has come to be called the Lament for Jerusalem, “For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will. . .smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation." God's people—busy with the business of the world—fail time and again to heed the prophets, leaving themselves unprepared for divine judgment. Evidence of their lack of readiness, the sign of their inattention is the thriving marketplace that has overwhelmed the temple courtyard. Quoting the prophet Malachi, Jesus shouts, “'My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.'” He then drives the merchants out of the temple so that he might teach without distraction. This surprising scene raises an intriguing question: in what ways do we steal from God? 

Mixing religion and money always brings with it the temptation to abuse one or the other if not both. Pastors steal from the collection plate. Bishops overlook sexual misconduct in fear of expensive lawsuits. Otherwise good Christians cheat on their taxes or allow money to threaten their marriages and friendships. Even Catholic religious living under vows of poverty manage to find temptation in the accumulation of things. The problem that Jesus recognizes in the temple courtyard however is not the doing of business per se. Buying and selling are not sinful in themselves. The problem is that those who buy and sell in the temple are principally motivated by buying and selling. Consumed with the daily business of acquiring money, they allow their attention to wander away from doing the business of God. God's house of prayer becomes a den of thieves when we turn our attention away from the works of righteousness and toward working in the world for the world. Our job description—as baptized followers of Christ—is simple: witness to the mercy of God by preaching His word in season and out.

Jesus wrecks the businesses in the temple because they steal from God. They steal the worship due His name. They steal the time and treasure due His work. They steal the talent better used in His service. God's people in Jerusalem are unprepared for the divine visitation. Quite literally, they don't see it coming. If we want to be prepared for judgment, we will carefully, diligently remain on watch, living each moment knowing that we live in God's creation, living as His creatures, wholly possessed by our promise to be His faithful workers.

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