The Gospel account of the cleansing of the Temple takes place in the Court of the Gentiles, the outside courtyard of the most sacred place in Judaism. This courtyard was where all peoples, regardless of their religion or nationality, could congregate. When standing there you could see the gates to the Temple’s inner courtyards, where only people of the Jewish faith were allowed; beyond that was the Holy of Holies where only a select few could enter. The Courtyard of the Gentiles was where the faithful could exchange their Roman coins, which were considered unclean, for Temple coins or animals to be used in those inner courtyards for their sacrifices. The rules of worship were detailed and fairly complex.
For centuries, mankind had been trying to lift themselves up to God; to come closer to Him. The history of the Jewish nation and their religion, was about taking God’s revelation and interaction with them and use it to move closer to their creator, to come home. But try as they might, they weren’t able to do it. It wasn’t in their ability to bridge the gap between them and God. But they tried, and in spite of the repeated failures they persisted in trying to be with their creator. Regardless of what else can be said about them, they were generally a faithful people trying to be more faithful. And yet there was something missing.
But now, in today’s Gospel Jesus is standing with people, Jews and Gentiles alike, in the outer courtyard, and He draws attention to Himself by His actions towards those who are participating in the accepted religious practices of their day. His surprising cleansing of the Temple of the merchants and His dialog with those who confront Him in effect says: ‘People I have got a better plan! The days of this type of worship are passing – allow God to come to you!’ He tells them, albeit cryptically, that there is a new path, and it is Him “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” meaning Himself. He is announcing that ‘God desires to pay for your sins and open the path home – allow God to tear open the veil that is between Him and you!’
That the people didn’t understand what God was going to do wouldn’t stop God from His loving act. He was going to open the barricade to Himself and allow the people to step through if they desired to. The fact that, as St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians shows us, even after the people witnessed the loving act of God’s Passion and still didn’t understand – God’s new path was still open; and is still open.
Brothers and Sisters, we are those people in the outer courtyard; we are those people standing on Calvary – we hear what they hear and we see what they see. Every Mass we attend we are standing in the courtyard and listening to Jesus; we are there with Him and Pontius Pilate. We are standing and watching Jesus being scourged. We are walking with Him on the via Dolorosa. We are driving nails into His wrists and feet on Golgotha. We are watching Him die. We close the tomb. We see it opened and empty. We see the risen Christ! We are there for it all – not symbolically but actually. That is what we do when we participate with Christ in this sacrifice of the Mass – His sacrifice. The fact that every now and then there is a veil between Him and us doesn’t make the Sacrifice of the Mass any less – it always was, is and ever will be the supreme act of love that we are given.
It is our task to remove the ‘veils’ of sin that keep us from appreciating His act, His new path. It is our task to accept and reaccept His gift of love, a gift that needs no courtyards, just willing hearts! It is our task to, as we heard this past Ash Wednesday, to ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ I pray that each of us, during this Lenten season looks deep into our hearts to find those veils of separation and, with God’s help remove them.