Responsible for Their Own Demise

(Homily for Third Sunday of Lent, Year B)

To trap monkeys, hunters in India sometimes set out bottles partially filled with chickpeas. When the monkey grabs some of them, he cannot pull his fist back through the mouth of the jar. Unwilling to let go of the delicious legume, he loses agility and speed. Thus he becomes easy prey for the hunters. Rather than enjoying a tasty meal, the monkey himself becomes the menu.*

Although we are supposedly smarter than our simian cousins, we have a similar tendency to hold on to things – even to our own destruction. Bernard Goldberg gives a contemporary example in the book Bias. He describes his effort to get the major media to recognize that by blatantly slanting the news they are, in the long run, bringing about their own demise. Instead of giving Goldberg a fair hearing, Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, the New York Times and others simply circled the wagons, doing their best to ignore or belittle his criticism. I recommend the book both because it shows what goes on inside major news sources and because it presents an instructive example for the rest of us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus attempts to awaken his contemporaries with a dramatic gesture – driving the money changers out of the temple. Jesus obviously loved the temple (“my Father's House”) and everything it stood for. However, he saw that certain practices would lead to its demise.** He tried to shake up the establishment, but instead of listening, they decided to silence him, to have him put to death.

The temple authorities can hardly be compared to what today we call “religious leaders.” Because of their collusion with the Romans, they possessed a coercive power unequaled by any bishop or denominational head in our country. We often picture the temple authorities as uptight prigs – and so they may have been – but they were also the best and the brightest, the most learned men, the cream of first century Palestinian society. Yet they had lost sight of the temple's purpose – “a house of prayer for all nations.” Earning money, necessary as it is, has a way of sidetracking any of us. At the same time, few things shake us up more than having our finances overturned.

Jesus knew how to get people’s attention. And he keeps doing it. He has a reason for allowing the clergy sex scandal to explode at this time. In addition, during the past thirty years he has allowed great numbers of our young people to abandon the Catholic Church. And he is permitting us to feel the financial pinch.

Are we getting Jesus’ message? Our natural tendency is to scramble for some quick fix.*** Reshuffling the institution is fine, but we do not want to hear those, like the Holy Father, who call us to personal change. It is so much easier to talk about relaxing the rules, lowering the bar. Above all, we shrink from radical questions: What is the purpose of the Temple, that is, the Church? And who owns her?


*David Fischman, Camino del Líder (Path of the Leader), p. 63.

**In 70 A.D. Titus' army destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem, as Jesus predicted. (Mt 24:2, Mk 13:2 etc.) Eusebius tells us that Jewish Christians abandoned Jerusalem before the siege began and fled to the city of Pella. (Church History III.5.3) Jesus had given his followers this warning: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her." (Luke 21:20-21).

***About six years ago, Notre Dame professor Charles E. Rice wrote an article about Catholic universities' over-dependence on government money. He gave it the evocative title Esau's Bargain. (Esau was the one who cared so little for his birthright that he sold it for a bowl of pottage.) Much of what Rice prophecied has sadly come to pass.

Versión Castellana

From the Archives:

Third Sunday of Lent, Year B 2012: The Coming Tsunami
2009: A Jealous God
2006: Focus Your Anger
2003: Responsible for Their Own Demise
2000: What Will Last?

Year A (RCIA):
Thirst (2011)
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)

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