The Temple in Jerusalem was everything for ancient Jews. The Temple was the religious center of the nation, as well as political and cultural capital. To get some idea of its importance, we would have to think of the Vatican, the United Nations, and the Sorbonne. For the Biblical Jews is was more than a religious meeting place; it was God’s house, the place where God made his dwelling on earth, the tabernacle of Yahweh.
So what did it mean for a provincial prophet to come into the holy city of Jerusalem and make a ruckus in the Temple? Well, you can imagine. What if someone burst into St. Peter’s and began shouting and turning things over and announcing judgment? It would be shocking and embarrassing beyond words.
To make matters worse, Jesus says something that is as shocking as his actions.
When they ask him to give a justification for what he has done, he says, “I will destroy this Temple and in three daysrebuild it.” He says he will destroy the most sacred symbol imaginable.
So what was he doing and why? First, in showing his lordship over even this most sacred symbol, he was announcing who he was—God. Second, he was instituting a new Temple–the temple of his own body. The authentic dwelling place of God, the sanctuary that replaces the corrupt sanctuaries of religion is the temple of his crucified and risen body. Jesus himself is the place where God dwells, and we in the measure that we are grafted on to him are Temples of the Holy Spirit.
Today the Church is the sacred Temple of Christ’s body; it is most itself when it gathers to pray as his body, and around his body and blood. Does it mean that the Church, in its institutional dimension, is beyond criticism? Obviously not. Sometimes we need the Lord to come into the Temple and clean it out.
Does it mean that, individually, we are clean and pure? No, in fact, it invites questions such as, what in our “Temple” needs to be purified? How have we allowed the moneychangers to invade the sacred space? What would arouse the anger of Jesus if he toured around inside our house?
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.