“Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Psalm 69:10)
This is the conclusion that the disciples of Jesus reached as being the essence of his entire life epitomized in the incident of the Temple cleansing. Thus, appreciating its significance, it could become an excellent motto to inspire and to motivate our whole life.
Zeal is burning passion which devours and consumes one from within the way a holocaust, a burnt offering is consumed on God’s altar. Only in the wake of his Resurrection, after Jesus had rebuilt the Temple of his Body, could his disciples decipher the full meaning of his words and actions. Correspondingly, in order to appreciate more this quote from Psalm 69, we should revisit the Gospel passage (John 2:13-25) for the Third Sunday of Lent. It points us towards a mysterious connection between Temple and Body and between Body and the Cross on which Jesus sacrificed his Body for our salvation. That is the reason why, unlike the other three Gospels, John’s Gospel records the cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Thus, through John’s narrative, the Church is addressing us all, in the heart of our Lenten observance, to make it abundantly clear that, as Jesus was consumed by zeal for the Father’s house, so should we be for the rest of our life on earth!
The intensity of Jesus’ zeal was such that, in a shockingly violent way, he made the need for sacrificial animals obsolete. That zeal had only increased from the moment when Jesus was about to become flesh and to begin his sacrificial offering in obedience to the Father: “Father, sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” (Hebrews 10:5) This dramatic incident of the cleansing of the Temple made of stones offers us an excellent opportunity to consider our direct involvement in linking the concept of us as the New Temple, with Christ as its cornerstone, to his Body and the linking of his Body to our personal sacrifice in union with him on the Cross.
St. Peter and St. Paul help us make such a connection in virtue of us being one with Christ Jesus through Baptism and Holy Communion.
“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual Temple to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
The reason why Jesus was so determined and angrily focused on cleansing the Temple was to establish a new type of sacrifice on the altar of the New Temple made of living stones.
St. Paul, who was so consumed with zeal for Christ and for his Body as to confess candidly that, by the end of his life, he had spent his whole self for the Lord, has a “burning” invitation for us all: “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
However, today’s second reading (1 Cor 1:22-25) shows how it is so very difficult for people of any persuasion (Jews and Gentiles alike) to appreciate the sacrifice of the Cross; and even harder to heed the call of offering the sacrifice of their bodies in union with Christ Jesus.
Although deeply impressed by Jesus’ zeal, we might still see a stumbling block that would make us hesitant in offering our bodies in union with him. Although we desire to participate fully in every Eucharistic Celebration, we might still consider it foolishness to sacrifice our self to the extent required by the new commandment of loving each other as Jesus loved us on the cross. Obviously, there are many reasons which might induce us to refuse to give up personal comforts and reasonable security so as to inconvenience ourselves to do Eucharist the way Jesus intends it to be offered to the Father. Hence, we ought to admit that, up to now, we cannot say with conviction: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Our Gospel passage (John 2:13-25), which prods us to personally and directly participate in the Sacrifice of the Cross, might still have us looking for alternative ways that would spare us self-immolation for our brothers and sisters.
Alas, falling short of the ideal of carrying out the new commandment proposed by Jesus during the Last Supper, is nothing new for us due to our human weakness. But St. Paul, who was always fully aware of his frailty and inadequacies, reminds us that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)
Our most-loving God needs only to find a receptive heart and sincere goodwill on our part. His Holy Spirit will enlighten our minds to see how we can be sacrificed in union with Christ for our family and for our loved ones as well as for this our Community of Faith in any of their pressing needs. His Holy Spirit will also help us shift our interest from idle and passing pursuits to focusing our time, talents and treasure to care for noble causes that are inspired by the Gospel.
Clearly, Jesus’ actions and words, as recorded in today’s Gospel passage, imply that our Eucharistic Celebrations cannot end as we exit the church where we worshipped. The pain and sufferings in us, all around us and the plight of countless people the world over remind us that there are no alternative ways. It is only by loving and serving Christ’s Body using the mind, heart, eyes, mouth, hands, arms and feet of our bodies in imitation of Christ’s sacrifice of his entire self that we can make a difference.
“I give you a new Commandment; love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus says in John 13:34. It is a scary, daunting challenge; but it is a challenge which will show if we can honestly claim that: zeal for your house will consume me.