Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
A priest was newly assigned to a town as Parish Priest. Some weeks after his arrival, he took a taxi downtown in exploration. After paying his fare, he realised that the driver had given him his change in excess. As he was pondering in his mind, he thought, “You better give the change back. It would be wrong to keep it”. Another thought crossed his mind, “It is only N500, those taxi men make so much money from people. The Driver would never know; it is my blessing from God”. On arriving at his destination, he decided to return the excess change. “Here, you gave me too much change.” The driver with a smile, replied, “Aren’t you the new priest in town?” “Yes,” he replied. “Well, I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I’ll see you at Church next Sunday.” When the priest alighted from the taxi, he literally grabbed the nearest light pole, held on and said, “Oh God I almost sold your Son for N500.” Our lives are the only Bible some people will ever read! As someone has said, “We need Christians to make Christians.”
According to Karl Rahner, “the number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles are what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable”. Since the beginning of Lent, our first readings on Sundays have presented us with three interesting personalities who have had covenantal relationships with God. Noah with the flood, Abraham with his son and today, Moses was given the ten commandments as Divine Constitution. God had liberated the Jewish people; He adopted them as his own and promised to lead them to the promised land. This was based on the condition that they kept His commandments. The ten commandments rather than stifle people’s freedom, helps them to express these freedoms better. They are based on two principles of reverence and respect. The first four are about reverence for God, His Name, His Day and Our Parents – who are God’s representatives for us on earth. The second sets are about respect for life, other people’s bodies, marriage bonds, property, people’s good names, owning our words about others in court, respect for our neighbour’s wives and properties. Reverence and respect fuels trust, which is a currency that makes the world viable to thrive in.
Reverence and respect may appear counterintuitive in a world that promotes the axiom of might is right. It is for this reason that St. Paul in the second reading to the Corinthians opines that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. Christianity challenges us to enter into the spirit of the law in order to foster relationships based on love. The embodiment of such relationship is Christ, who lived, died and rose from the dead. Obeying God’s commandments of love becomes our expression of Divine Worship.
In the Gospel from John, Jesus was livid with and condemned the exploitation of religion for wealth, power and prestige. Rather than being countercultural to the rabid capitalism that usurp the dignity of the poor, the temple became an enabler giving divine credence to such practice. Jesus reacted fiercely to the commercialization of faith. Since weapons were not allowed within the temple precincts, he fashioned whips from chords to flush out the excesses from the place of worship. The action of Jesus was aggressive enough for someone who preached peace and forgiveness and it is amazing that the business owners and corporations did not eliminate him. Perhaps, the words of Jesus struck a chord in their consciences as they collectively realized the havoc they had done to religion. Psalm 69:9, provides the justification for the action of Jesus.
We need such righteous anger in our world today and particularly in our nation. Righteous anger propelled Abraham Lincoln to stand against the practice of slavery; Martin Luther King Jnr. and Mahatma Ghandhi to condemn racial discrimination in America and India respectively; Nelson Mandela to rise against apartheid in South Africa; Mary Slessor to rescue twins in Nigeria and Dora Akunyuli to fight fake drugs in Nigeria. We must stand up to the bully, challenge the thief and denounce oppression. We must note that according to Aristotle, “anyone can be angry. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, and with the right purpose is not easy”.
Our places of worship must remain avenues for true encounter with God. Our churches should serve as encounters of loving people. Zechariah 14:21 challenges us not to make our worship about marketing. Our relationship with God should not just be transactional, where we believe we can buy our way to heaven. Our churches must give us a preview of what heaven is like. As Jesus cleansed the temple, we need to cleanse our hearts of all that holds us away from God’s presence. We must exorcise our injustices, impurity, hatred, strife, worries and jealousies. Through our Lenten observances of prayer, fasting and almsgiving let us pay a visit to the sacrament of reconciliation. We must strive to make our parish a community of love by belonging to associations and contribute to the need of the poor with our time, treasures and talents. We must root out of our lives habits that keep us from God’s love. As we continue our journey into God’s embrace, we are called, in the words of Fanny Crosby, to keep steps with the Master:
Keep Step With The Master
by Fanny Crosby
Keep step with the Master, whatever betide;
Though dark be the pathway, keep close to your Guide
While foes are alluring, and danger is near,
When walking with Jesus, you’ve nothing to fear.
Keeping step go bravely forward,
And thy courage will renew;
Daily walk with Christ your Saviour,
He will lead you all the journey through.
Keep step with the Master, nor halt by the way;
Whate’er He commands you, oh, haste to obey!
Arise at His bidding, press on in His might;
While walking with Jesus, you’re sure to be right.
Fr. Tee, SMA