Let us cleanse the temples of our hearts …
Remember, remember, remember.
One of the greatest themes of the Old Testament is that God calls his beloved people, Israel, to remember his love. God’s providential care—which led Israel out of Egypt, cared for this people in the wilderness, and settled this nation in the promised land—is quickly and easily forgotten by his chosen people. Israel’s prophets call for return, for continued faithfulness to God, when Israel goes astray. Remember the mighty deeds of God, the prophets cry!
Jesus’ righteous anger in this Sunday’s Gospel is directed at those who have forgotten. Having forgotten the goodness of God, they have turned the Lord’s sacred dwelling place, the Temple, into a place of trading, clamor, and unrighteousness.
Hearing the Ten Commandments recited in the first reading, we are reminded that God has first place in our lives. The 16th century Roman Catechism states (and the contemporary Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms),
Whoever says ‘God’ speaks of a constant, unchanging being, always the same, ever faithful and perfectly just. It follows that we must necessarily accept God’s words and have complete faith and trust in God. God is almighty, gentle and infinitely inclined to the good. Who could not place all hope in such a person? Who could not love God when contemplating the treasures of goodness and tenderness God has poured out for us? Hence the formula God employs in Scripture at the beginning and end of his commandments: ‘I am the Lord’ (Roman Catechism, III).
The Ten Commandments are the basis of the moral life, the foundation of a relationship with the living God. And yet how many could readily recite the commandments? How many of us could list them off from memory? Do they remain etched in stone rather than engraved on our hearts?
The disciples, too, forget the deeds of Christ and his promises. Having known the Lord and witnessed his public ministry, the disciples forgot the meanings of some of his actions. Moments like the cleansing of the Temple faded from their memories and Jesus’ meaning was obscured.
And yet, in his abundant mercy and love, Christ allows his beloved friends to remember his works and his teachings. The grace of the Resurrection allows Jesus’ miracles and teaching to be seen clearly, to be renewed in the minds of the apostles, to be remembered.
So often our own anger and our own sadness blinds us from the reality of God at work in our lives. By insisting on remembrance – that is living awareness of the goodness of the Lord – we will cleanse the temples of our hearts, making them ready places for the worship of the Father.
St. Paul offers the spiritual interpretation that our hearts are temples, dwelling places of God. He writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). When we are alone, when we fear, when we are afraid… this is the Presence we seek!
The Goodness of God, the radical love of something greater, this is the longing of the human heart. To cleanse it means to drive forth every power of evil, every false ideology, every attempt at self-definition that pales in comparison to the splendor of God. The book of Sirach teaches,
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not turn away, lest you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust him and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy…. Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken? (Sirach 2:7-10).
This holy fear, which is the beginning of wisdom, grows as we recall what God has done for us. For truly God has done wondrous things in our lives. He has opened for us a way of faithfulness and love. By giving his commandments he offers us a path to freedom. The liberation we seek is here. It is an ancient way. A way God Himself has taught to us. Remember the work of the Lord!