Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Den of Thieves

March 4, 2011
Friday in the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

By Melanie Rigney
Now will I praise those godly men, our ancestors, each in his own time. But of others there is no memory, for when they ceased, they ceased. And they are as though they had not lived, they and their children after them. Yet these also were godly men whose virtues have not been forgotten; their wealth remains in their families, their heritage with their descendants; through God’s covenant with them their family endures, their posterity, for their sake. (Sirach 44:1, 9-12)

Sing to the Lord a new song, a hymn in the assembly of the faithful. (Psalms 149:1)

They came to Jerusalem, and on entering the temple area (Jesus) began to drive out those selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area. Then he taught them saying, “Is it not written: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples? But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:15-17)

Jesus, it’s so much easier to sing the old songs. Hold my hand while I learn Your new lyrics.

It’d be easy to imagine, even if we hadn’t seen it in countless movies and television shows. Jesus and the disciples get to the temple area and all sorts of bad things are going on—prostitutes, dancing girls, all manner of buskers and con men. Jesus is offended, and starts overturning tables and challenging all these evil activities.

Except, according to the New American Bible, that’s not what Jesus encountered at all.

The NAB notes on Matthew’s version of the incident say: “The activities going on in the temple area were not secular but connected with the temple worship. … Animals for sacrifice were sold; the doves were for those who could not afford a more expensive offering … Only the coinage of Tyre could be used for the purchases; other money had to be exchanged for that.”

What was going on in the temple area that day was nothing unusual, and nothing that the priestly authorities would have considered sacrilegious or improper. But Jesus still is offended, and starts overturning tables and challenging all these evil activities, because to him, a place that in essence has an admission charge for entrĂ©e to God’s grace is no temple.

How does this relate to our lives today? After all, it’s not like we charge $10 at the door for people to attend Mass. But sometimes we barter in other ways, with ourselves, each other, and God. We tell ourselves it’s not a big deal if we once in a while abuse our God-given minds or bodies. We smile and make room in the pew for someone who looks like us… and frown or refuse to budge for someone who’s of a different ethnicity or who sings too loud or who doesn’t appear to have bathed for a week. We offer to swap God our service or sacrifice if He answers a prayer.

And when we do those things, we invite in the thieves. And once they’ve taken up residence, they can be mighty hard to evict.

Consider your Lenten plans. How will they help you sing a hymn in the assembly of the faithful beyond the season?