Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Lake Charles, Louisiana
March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent

“Zeal for your house will consume me.”  (John 2:17, cf. Psalm 69:10)

The Temple in Jerusalem was the holiest spot in all of Judaism.  Established on Mount Zion, it had many ancient religious and historic associations for the Jews.  Most importantly, the Temple represented God’s presence in the midst of His people. 

We see Jesus purifying the Temple in the Gospel today.  What Jesus does is remarkable.  He takes a whip and drives the animal venders and money changers out of the Temple area.  He overturned the tables of the money changers and had particularly harsh words for those who sold doves.  “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2:16).  This action of Jesus would have caught many by surprise.  Jews came from every place in the Empire.  They needed money changers to give them currency to pay the Temple tax.  They needed animals for the Temple sacrifices.  Why does Jesus do this?

The disciples attribute it to “zeal.”  They remembered the words of Psalm 69:  “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17).  Jesus is acting like a prophet of old.  He engages in harsh measures to call the people to conversion.  There is more. 

The Jews watching Jesus ask what justifies His actions.  Invoking the image of the Temple itself, Jesus answers, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).  Mockingly they reply that the Temple has been under construction for decades.  How can Jesus rebuild it in three days?  John the Evangelist gives us the answer to that question.  He writes, “… he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). 

The Body of Jesus is the Temple for us.  There are many dimensions to the body of Jesus.  On one level, there is the body formed in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus will speak to instruct and touch to heal with this body.  He will also endure suffering with this body and die upon the cross.  It is also with this body glorified that He rises from the dead and ascends to be seated at the right hand of the Father.  It is in this body that He keeps the signs of His suffering, the nail marks and the pierced side.  But there is also a more profound dimension to His body reflected in the Eucharist.

It was Jesus himself who taught, “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53).  This body of Jesus becomes food for eternal life.  So, Jesus says, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26). 

When we celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist, we enter into a deep mystery of presence and communion.  In a true way, we enter into the new Temple.  Here there are no money changers, because there is no price.  The price has already been paid by the Lord Jesus himself.  There are no animals to be sacrificed, because the Lord Jesus himself is the sacrificial victim.  How do we enter more fully into the body of the Lord?

It is with “zeal”.  Why do we fast and pray in Lent?  Why do we take extra measures to purify our conscience?  They are the actions of someone who is zealous for God.  We want to imitate our Lord, purifying the temple of our bodies so that we can receive Jesus, and more to the point, so that we can become Jesus through His mystical Body, the Church.   

I have celebrated the Eucharist in the some of the most important churches in the world—the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, the tomb of St. Peter, the Shrine of Lourdes.  I have also celebrated the Eucharist in the most humble of places—a mission chapel in Mexico without a roof or windows, on a ship at sea, in a prison visiting room.  Wherever it was, I, like any other priest with whatever other congregation, held in my hands the Body of the Lord and celebrated the redemption, which the cleansing of the Temple prefigured. 

May God forgive us for our lack of zeal in entering the Temple, but thanks be to God for allowing us another Lent to renew our zeal for the Body of the Lord.