As I reflect on this week’s readings two words come to mind – Law & Order. The Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai is the basis for the covenant between God and the children of Israel. As parents, we know how important it is to have rules for our children. Without rules, we have only chaos. Rules also are part of who we are as families, not only do rules regulate activities, and set standards to respectful relations, but they also form our identity – i.e. “We are a family who cares for each other, put the other person first, and loves one another.”
There is also the unconditional love of the mother, who stands by her children no matter what – thus the saying, “A child only a Mother could love.” Anyone who was blessed with a good mother knows this kind of unconditional love.
By giving the Law to Moses, God was being a Father who loves his children enough to discipline them so that they can be a people of compassion, caring for one another, as much as He cares for them. This Covenant with God becomes their identity, a people directed by their faith and love of God rather than by selfish ambitions. Further, the Law forms them as ‘one nation under God.’ However, just like our nuclear families, Israel is a community in travail. It is a process of love, and struggle; success and failure; compassion, and forgiveness; and surrender to love. As Bob Carlisle sings in the song We Fall Down the difference between saints and sinners is that the saints are just sinners who fall down and get up.
God also expresses a maternal love of unconditional love as found in the wisdom books of the Jewish Scriptures. This wisdom is Holy Wisdom: Hagia Sophia. “She led them by a marvelous road. She herself was their shelter by day and their starlight through the night” (Wisdom 10:17). In Matthew, Jesus exclaims in exacerbation, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Matthew 23:37) And this is confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Paragraph 239), “God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature.”
Another way God communicates this tough love to his children is to send prophets. The prophet’s message is a harsh one, but it is a message born out of love as only a Father can love. This tough love is often rejected, met with man’s anger, and too often with the killing of the messenger. Jesus, the last prophet, foretold his own rejection and murder as a despised son in the Parable of the Tenants. “He sent his beloved son to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.”
(Matthew 12:6-8) This brings us to our Gospel today in the cleansing of the Temple.
Jesus brought his call to repentance to the center of Jewish religious authority, when he drove out of the Temple area “those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there.” (John 2:14) This is what is called speaking truth to power. Jesus action in the Temple struck at the central power and wealth in Jerusalem. At the time of Jesus, 80% of the economy of Jerusalem was based on the temple activities of the raising, selling, and the slaughtering of animals for sacrifice, and the exchange of foreign currency for these activities. It is also interesting to note the Temple officials were the recipients of the meat from the animals slaughtered. Biblical scholars point to this event as the singular act of Jesus that fermented the plot to put him to death outside the City of Jerusalem. No wonder, he had to be put to death he was threatening the entire economy of Jerusalem. The questions for us are, “Where do we see the abuse of power today?” “How are we called to speak truth to power?” “And who of us is ready to get behind Jesus and go to Jerusalem? (Cf. Matthew 16:23)