Bartering with God
3rd Sunday of Lent

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

"I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery," is the cardinal dogma of Old Testament religion. From this Exodus-event proceeded God's entering into a covenant with the Jews which made them His people and He their God. For the people to be faithful to this covenant and for them to attain delivery from the bondage of sin, He gave them the 10 Commandments (Ex. 21:1-17).

It should be noted though that at the time God took the Jews as His own, He was just beginning to form them as His people. Then, they were like children in their spiritual journey to God. Thus the Commandments were stated mostly in the negative: "Thou shalt not..." -- the way parents initially raise and form their children. Which was what God did as He was molding the Jews into His people. It was only when they became mature that God could give them a New Commandment and this through His Son Jesus: "Love one another as I have loved you." With this, God crowned the 10 commandments with the Commandment of Love. Thus His people -- this time, the followers of Jesus -- would no longer do something evil because it was prohibited but because it would destroy their relationship of love with God and neighbor.

Thus a mature Christian, Christianity is a religion of love, of service in love. In this regard, we could be watching TV the whole day and not violate any of the commandments since we are not doing anything prohibited and yet not be a good Christian. For then, we could be violating the commandment of love as there are many people outside our comfortable homes who need us, our service. For the commandment of love, of loving service, necessitates that we be pro-active in behalf of the needy -- not for our personal gain but for love of God.

It is in this context that we are to view the cleansing of the temple by Jesus during the Feast of the Passover -- the greatest feast of the Jews (Jo. 2: 13-25). The Jews then went on pilgrimage to the Temple to pray, to offer sacrifice and to pay their temple tax. Since many of them came from different parts of the world, they were forced to buy the animals for sacrifice from merchants in the temple area. Moreover, since their money bore the image of the emperor (this was forbidden by the first commandment), they had to have it changed into temple money by money changers. Both at exorbitant prices. In effect, the merchants and money changers had made the Temple -- the holiest place of worship of God's people -- into a market place. And the Temple priest were behind these money-making ventures!

Jesus was not opposed to outward signs of worship as such. He Himself went to the temple to pray on several occasions. But seeing this holy place turned into a marketplace and a den of thieves, He physically drove the merchants and money changers out of the temple grounds. He just could not allow His Father's house to be the place for worship without a soul, for a religion motivated by the pursuit for gain. He wanted it restored to its original purpose, namely, a place of worship in spirit and in truth.

When the Jews asked for a "sign" to prove His authority to clear His Father's house, He responded, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." Obviously, He was not referring to the temple made of stone which had taken forty six years to build. Rather, He was referring to the Temple of His body.

With Jesus' coming, the Jewish temple has become a thing of the past. He is now the living Temple through Whom all those who believe have access to God. He is now the only worthy sacrifice we can offer to the Father. Finally, through Him people find total reconciliation with the Father and with one another.

Yet when we pray, are we not often like the merchants and the temple priests who shared in their profits? Do we not often turn our prayers into business deals with God? For example, do we not find ourselves praying, "If my husband stops drinking or gambling, I will pray the novena to our Lady of Perpetual Help every Wednesday?" Or, "If I win the sweepstakes, I will donate 10% to the church?" What happens if someone else promises to donate 20% of his winning? Will God take the best offer? In affect, when we pray thus, we are bartering with God. Then we are no different from the merchants and the temple priests who turned religion into a business venture.

Definitely, we have to move from the observance of the "Thou shalt nots" of the 10 Commandments to the Commandment of Love. We are to show our love for the Father by our care for and service to others in need and not for personal gain. This is what to follow Jesus means. And this is what we should work on not only during this season of Lent but for the rest of our life.