By Very Rev. Fr. Paul John Opara
There’s something alarming in our society that we seem unable to denounce. We live in a civilization that has, as its focus of thinking and criterion of acting, the secret conviction that what’s most important and decisive isn’t what one is, but what one has. It’s been said that money is «the symbol and idol of our civilization» (Miguel Delibes). And in fact most people give their being and sacrifice their whole life to and for it.
John Kenneth Galbraith, a great theorist of modern capitalism, in his work “The Affluent Society”, wrote that money has three fundamental advantages: first, the sense of power it give the person; second, the ability to own everything that money can buy; third, the prestige and respect given to rich people because of their wealth. How many people, without daring to admit it, feel deep down that what’s really important in their life is material wellbeing, the earning of money and economic prestige.
Here is without doubt one of the most serious failings of our civilization. The prosperous, developed world is all too materialist. Despite our protestations about freedom, justice or solidarity, we hardly value anything but money. But how often it fails to make people happy. With money you can build a fine mansion, but you can’t create a warm home. You can buy a comfortable bed, but not a peaceful sleep. With money you can form new relationships without making true friends. You can buy pleasure, but not happiness. And there’s something even we believers must realize if, in one sense, money “opens all doors”, it never opens the door of our heart to God.
Jesus enters the temple: and it is like entering the centre of time and space, in the fulcrum around which everything revolves. What Jesus will now do and say in the most sacred place of Israel is of paramount importance: it goes to God himself. He prepares a whisk and crosses the esplanade like a rushing torrent, overwhelming men, animals, tables and coins. The tables turned upside down, the chairs upside down; the cages carried away show that the overturn carried by Jesus is total. They sell oxen for the rich and doves for the sacrifices of the poor. Jesus overthrows everything: the time of the blood is over to give praise to God. As the prophets had cried in vain: <<I do not drink the blood of the lambs, I do not eat their flesh>>; mercy I want and not sacrifices (Os 6,6). Jesus abolishes, with his own, every other sacrifice; the sacrifice of God to man takes the place of the many sacrifices of man to God.
He threw the money, the money god, the mammoth idol to the ground, hoisted above all things, installed in the temple like a king on the throne, the eternal golden calf is scattered on the ground, unmasked his illusion. And to the sellers of doves he said: do not make the house of the Father, a market place. God has become the object of buying and selling. The smart ones use it to earn theirs, the devotees to earn it also. Giving and having, selling and buying are ways that offend love. Love cannot be bought, it is not begged, it is not imposed, it is not pretended. Do not use the bartering law of bartering with God where you give something to God to pretend something from him. Like when we think that going to church, having performed a ritual, lit a candle, said that prayer, made that offer, we have fulfilled our duty, we have given and we can expect some favor in return. So we’re just money changers, and Jesus turns the table over. If we believe we involve God in a mercantile game, we must change mentality: God is not for sale, He belongs to everyone. You cannot buy Him even at the price of the purest currency. God is love, he who wants to pay him goes against his own nature and treats him as a prostitute. “When the prophets spoke of prostitution in the temple, they meant this cult, as pious as it was, offensive to God” (St. Fausti): I give you prayers and offers, you give me long life, fortune and health.
House of the Father, his tent is not only the temple building: do not make the market of religion and faith, but do not make the market of man, of life, of the poor, of mother earth. Every human body, of man and woman is divine temple: yes, fragile, beautiful and infinite. And if a life is worth little, nothing is worth as much as a lifetime. Because with a kiss God has transmitted into it eternal breath. True worshipers adore him in spirit and in truth. We sell and buy in the Church through harvests and birthday cutting Cakes.
We Christians aren’t used to the violent image of a Messiah whipping people out of the temple. And yet that was Jesus’ reaction when he encountered people in the House of God, who were interested in nothing other than buying and selling. The temple had turned into a marketplace where the only thing worshipped was money.
We can’t relate as a son or daughter to God our Father if our relationships with others are all based on money. It’s impossible to understand God’s loving kindness if we are too wrapped up in the rat-race. You cannot serve God and Money. Two masters at the same time.
In order to worship in spirit and in truth, we must prepare our hearts and minds by being faithful to the covenant relationship (keeping the commandments) and seeking the wisdom of God, which is the wisdom of the cross. We have to let Jesus cleanse us, as he cleansed the Temple, leave our sins behind, and simplify our lives, getting rid of any needless clutter. Then we are able to enter into the new Temple, which is Jesus himself, praying in and through him.
When the side of Jesus was pierced on Calvary, the veil of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The place of worship is no longer the Temple in Jerusalem; now, it is through the pierced side of Christ that we have “access to the Father in the one Spirit.” So it is that, after the resurrection, Thomas will place his hand in Jesus’ side and worship, saying, “My Lord and my God,” as today’s gospel tells us: “When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered¦ and believed. If we are to properly worship God, we must leave behind everything that gets in the way, then enter into that secret chamber which is the side of Christ, and there worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
We all have our part to play in ensuring that the church is what the Lord intends it to be. Lent in particular is a time for listening to the Spirit. If we let the Spirit renew our lives we will conform more fully to the image and likeness of Christ.
The fiery Jesus of the gospel who is passionate about what God wants remains alive and active at the heart of the church today. The relationship between the Lord and the church, between the Lord and each one of us, will always be marked by a certain tension, because the Lord will always be working to purify and renew us. In the light of the gospel we might ask ourselves in what ways we have allowed the values of the market place to override the values of the gospel in our own lives, in the life of our society, in the life of our church.
As civilized people, money is a means of exchange and we must be careful educated in the search of it and make use of it for the Kingdom of Heaven. Charity, love for the less privileged and solidarity, if you are in the position to do and promote these values.
GOD SAVE YOUR PEOPLE. Amen!
Very Rev. Fr Paul John Opara, is a catholic Priest of Nigerian decent, studied at Pontifical University of St. Anthony “Antonianum”, St. Thomas Aquinas and U.P. ASPIC Popular University of Counselling Rome. Actually in one of the Dioceses outside Rome where he is working as director for pastoral services of immigrations and Rector of a Church.Fr Paul is a Founder and promoter of “SAVE THE POOR FOUNDATION”, an NGO that cares for the less privileged people, orphans and Youth empowerment, in rural communities in Nigeria. Email contact: firstname.lastname@example.org – email@example.com.
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