04 March 2018

The Church is not a marketplace

3rd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

When is the church a house of prayer, and when is it a marketplace? What is prayer and what is commerce? Prayer is asking God to bless us with what we need. Commerce is buying from and selling to others what we think we need. Prayer is an act of humility; commerce is simply an exchange of goods or services, seeking profit. The church is a house of prayer when it is a place for God’s people to gather to ask Him for what they need in humility and to offer Him worship in justice. The church is a marketplace, however, when it becomes a place for God’s people to make profitable deals with the Father, or attempt to buy or sell His gifts. There is nothing sinful about commerce or profit per se. But when the merchandise is the Truth of the faith, or when the profit gained weakens God's people, there we have a problem! The Church is not a marketplace. It's a nation, a priesthood, a tribe of men and women who make up the Body of Christ, men and women given to Christ by his Father to save from sin and death. Nothing we have from the Father is for sale. Nothing we need for eternal life can be bought.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem with a little righteous anger brewing and hits the temple area like a desert whirlwind. Laying hold of his prophetic authority, Jesus, recalling Zechariah the Prophet, calls the temple a house of prayer that has been made into a den of merchants. To cleanse the temple of thievery, he drives out those who have turned his Father’s place of worship into a marketplace for Mammon. Now cleansed, the temple becomes his place for teaching, a place for proclaiming and preaching the Word—a place where the people gather to hang on Jesus’ every word. In this one movement, this single display of righteous indignation, Jesus has redefined the church for us, reconceived what it means for his people to gather, to hear the Word, to worship in spirit and truth, and to live in the abiding presence of God day-to-day.

When the People of God, the Body of Christ, come together to offer praise and thanksgiving, to offer up petitions and intercessions, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When the Word is proclaimed and preached and the sacrifice of thanksgiving made on the altar and in the heart, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When we gather to give to God what is His in justice, that which we owe Him as a matter of covenant and elemental desire, that is, our lives, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When the house of the Lord is a house of prayer, it is a time and place of distilled righteousness, a time away from time, a place away from place, where and when we take into ourselves the Body and Blood of Christ. Where we ourselves are the sacrifice.

While here we don’t just hang on his words in prayer; we hang on his cross, offering to God what has been His gift to us from the beginning: our love, our adoration, our very lives.

The house of the Lord becomes a den of merchants when we withhold our assent and our surrender. When we choose, freely, the stingy path of hoarding for later our desire to be with God forever; that is, storing up our YES, tucking away our YES, we steal from Him what is rightly His. And deny ourselves everything we can be for Him.

To worship in spirit and truth, to adore Him with our strength in joy, to be seduced by His hope, cherished in His love, and brought forever to live in His beauty – that’s prayer! That’s justice! We are not here in this church as The Church to make deals with the Father. We aren't here to bargain for healing or to trade on promises of good deeds done sometime later. We're not here to borrow grace with interest or make payments on a loan. Everything the Father gives us He gives us for free. We owe Him praise and thanksgiving not b/c He needs it but b/c we need to praise Him and give Him thanks. That's how we grow in holiness. That's how we become more like Christ. On the Cross Christ destroyed the temple of the merchants – the deal-making, the buying and selling of salvation – and he rebuilt the temple in three days, rising from his grave on the third day to establish his Church, his nation of priests, to offer him praise and thanksgiving.
If, on this Third Sunday of Lent, you need something for which to give God thanks and praise, look to Paul writing to the Romans: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” The One who promises us eternal life is both wiser and stronger than we are. Our foolishness and weakness is no match for His mercy and love.

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