In today’s Gospel, Jesus was not only angry, but furious at the people selling cattle, sheep and pigeons, and the money changers. Thus, He screamed at them saying, “Stop turning my Father’s house; (a sacred place of worship) into a market place.” He then made a whip and drove all of them out of the Temple.
Cheating in itself is already an evil and sinful, but in this situation it was doubly grave because they were not only cheating poor people, but also cheating in a sacred place of worship of God.
Do you think the worshippers and the public knew that the cheating was going on? They certainly did, but no one seems to have had the courage to speak up against the injustice, the sacrilege and scandal that were going on. Most people chose to remain silent and subservient to the evil and sin that was going on.
If we reflect on our daily living, we will find that in different ways we too do remain silent to a lot of evil and sin that we see and hear around us. For example, when we are in the company of friends or people who speak negatively or badly about others, how often do we speak up and defend the truth and reputation of the person whose character is being maligned through gossips? Instead, how often do we give ourselves excuses after excuses that it is none of my business to interfere with other people’s problems? The main reason we do this is because it is easier to keep silent and maintain a superficial relationship with our friend by avoiding conflicts than to pay the price of defending the truth.
Ernest Gordon shares the true story of what he saw in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp on the River Kwai. He says, “at the end of a day’s work the tools are being counted. As the group was about to be dismissed, the Japanese guard shouted that a shovel is missing. He insisted that someone had stolen it to sell to the Thais. The guard screamed in anger and demanded that the guilty prisoner step forward and own up. No one moved. The guard then shrieked, “All die! All die!”
To show that he meant what he said, he cocked his rifle and pointed it at the group. As he was about to fire, Argyll stepped forward, stood stiffly to attention, and said calmly, “I did it.” The guard lurched forward and kicked and pounded his rifle butt on to Argyll’s skull until he lay lifeless on the ground. His comrades, in tears, silently then carried Argyll’s body and marched back to the camp. When the tools were counted again at the guard house, no shovel was missing.
Courage is meaningful and possible when we are serving a higher value. In the true story, Argyll paid a high price for his courage because he valued the lives of his comrades more than his own. To him it was worth dying for his comrades.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus was never afraid to stand up for the truth. Thus, He courageously drove out those who were cheating in the Temple. Jesus knew very well that in doing so, He would be building up opposition and enemies who would be plotting to kill Him. While Jesus had great compassion for sinners and had preferential love for the poor and needy, He also had great courage to speak out against the evils of the world. In the Gospel of Mt 15:7-8, He called the Pharisees, “You hypocrites, you brood of vipers, you honour God with our lips, but not with your hearts.”
Contrary to Jesus in today’s Gospel, the Jews knew the evil that is being perpetrated in the Temple, but, no one really challenged the Temple authorities to stop the injustices. Likewise, most if not all of us, are aware of how we should challenge ourselves to live our lives in God’s love and ways.
However, it is not uncommon for us to daily give ourselves excuses after excuses for not living our faith and not loving God as we ought to? Take for example, we all know that we need to spend quality time in prayer, we also know that we need to love and forgive others as fully as we can, in Christ-like ways, we also know that we should speak up for the truth and serve the needs of the poor and needy as Christ has taught us.
We all know these truths, but how many of us are able to cooperate with God’s graces and live the Christ-like life that God wants of us? Instead, do we catch ourselves giving excuses after excuses for not taking up the challenges to live and mature in our faith as God wills of us? Actually, all these feelings are not unusual.
Icon of Jesus with Adam and the Prophets
When God called the Old Testament prophets to serve Him, they too gave excuses. For prophet Jeremiah his excuse was that he didn’t know how to speak and that he could only stutter like a child, and that he had no talents and gifts to be a prophet. Prophet Isaiah however, said that he was unworthy to be a prophet because he was unclean and not holy enough. Prophet Amos on the other hand complained that he did not have enough experience to be a prophet.
In the New Testament, the Apostles James and John, Pete and Andrew could also have given the excuses that they couldn’t leave their father and family business. However, they took up the challenge, trusted God and did leave their father and home to live God’s Will. There is an old Jewish proverb that says, “When God give you a job to do, He doesn’t say that you have always to succeed, but it does say that you can’t quit.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to be a good and holy Christian life that is modeled after Christ, then we have first to be aware of the different excuses that we give ourselves daily for not growing in our faith in the Lord. We can no longer remain passive and uninvolved when we are challenged to speak up and stand up for the truth with courage. Like Argyll and the apostles, we are called to follow Jesus single-mindedly, and to love God and trust Him more wholeheartedly.
As Jesus challenged and chased out of the Temple those who were cheating and exploiting the poor, we too are called never to compromise and never be satisfied with maintaining a superficial relationship with Jesus through our silence and self-centered timidity. Instead, when we are faced with evil and sins of the world may we have the grace to face our challenges courageously.
The Lenten season is a time of challenge and change for the better; the Lenten season is a time of joy and blessings through the growth we experience in Jesus, the Lenten season will surely transform us to become more like Christ, if we dare to become what God wants us to become.
Let us have the courage of Christ to live the Father’s Will, the trust of the Apostles to follow Jesus faithfully and the selflessness of Argyll to dare to give up our life for the good of others, and more importantly out of our love for our God who offers us eternal life.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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