Commentary for the 3th Sunday of Lent B
A priest was a master playing good cop-bad cop in his high school teaching career. In the morning, as a professor he would berate a student who was not working up to his potential. But at 3 PM he would be waiting at the exit to catch the boy and play good cop. He would find out why the student was not producing. Ironically he ended his career as chaplain for the New York Police Department.
Christ arrives in Jerusalem for the Passover. The action center was the great Temple. It was one of the world's wonders. The Michelin tourist books had it down on the must-see A list. When the Teacher walked in that day, it was under construction for almost half a century and at the cost of mega millions.
To gain admission into the Temple one had to pay half a shekel. That was a big sum amounting to two day's wages. That amount did not bother Jesus. He felt that gifts are owed to His Father. He has been so generous to us. Unlike us, most Jews long had and still have the habit of returning a tenth of their income to God. Anything less they consider an insult to God or just a tip. Who needs God as an enemy?
What did disturb Jesus that day and prompt his bad cop- good cop routine? Well, if you were a Jew coming for the Passover from Rome, your money would be in liras. They were unacceptable at the Temple. So, you had to convert them into shekels with the Temple money changers. They would take you to the cleaners. There was nothing you could do about it. The bankers in this context were bandits. This was theft in the name of religion. The problem for them was that Jesus was always an advocate for the underdog.
John tells us today in graphic language what happened. The next best thing to John's prose is the sixteenth century El Greco's magnificent painting of this scene in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. See it before you die.
This story sheds important light on the character of Christ. He had a low boiling point. He did not hesitate to resort to physical violence at the sight of people being abused. This image is far different from the nerdy Jesus greeting card clerks sell us at three dollars each.
You may be cringing right about now and saying, "Hey, that's an angry Jesus you're painting. I don't want any part of Him." Well, relax. That is only half the story. That is Jesus the bad cop. Now let's check Him as the good cop.
Turn to Matthew's account of this story (21:12-14). There Jesus after driving all the thieves out of the Temple is standing out of breath and in a sweat with his homemade whip in hand. At that point, all the great unwashed and the walking wounded rush up to Him. Some walk on their ankles. Matthew says in a masterpiece of understatement, "He healed them." There is Jesus the good cop. Those who needed Him saw no reason to get out of His way. Quite the contrary. They ran to Him for help and once again He delivered.
There are more than one billion Christians in the world. We should be having a significant impact on the society all about us. That impact should especially be for the underdog whether it be the unborn babe, the abused child, the battered wife or husband, the woman in the soup kitchen, the fellow with AIDS, and so on. What a different society it would be if each of us did something every day for someone weaker than ourselves. "How wonderful it is," wrote Anne Frank, "that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."
In fact, though, the majority of us blend into the landscape. Contemporary culture has a dreadful effect on us.
Perhaps today's Gospel will motivate us to work for others. It certainly did that for a South African headmaster. He quit his post at a posh prep school rather than submit to the school's apartheid policy. Friends told him he was deranged. He replied, "When I meet God, He will ask me, `Where are your wounds?' If I reply I haven't any, He may inquire, `Wasn't there anything worth fighting for?' I couldn't face that question."
It is up to us to determine whether Christ is a forceful person in our lives or just a figure in an Eastern mystery play. The monk tells us to live the Christian life completely so that the priest will not have to tell lies at our funeral.