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Bishop's Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

We are the temples of God.

By Bishop Larry Silva
March 07, 2021

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu; St. Ann Church, Kaneohe]

We all know that a temple is a place dedicated to the worship of God.  Jesus, as a devout Jew often went to the Temple in Jerusalem on pilgrimage, as we see he did in today’s Gospel.  But Jesus not only does something radical by cleansing the Temple of the buyers and sellers who were defiling it, but he says something radical by referring to his own body as a temple – one that would be destroyed yet raised up on the third day.  The God who was worshipped in the inner sanctum of the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem is the same God who had taken on a human body in Jesus.  Though his meaning was not understood until much later, after his own death and resurrection, it was very true to say that Jesus was a living, walking Temple.

But do not we who are disciples of Jesus refer to our own bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, sacred places where God chooses to abide, so that through us, God can be worshipped wherever we go?  This is a lofty notion, but one that is very true.  We are the temples of God.  Through our bodies we are to invite others to worship God.  If only we realized what a lofty calling this is, the whole world would be transformed from a place of sin and division to a place of justice, love, and peace.

The problem is that we forget who we really are and do not own up to the great dignity bestowed on us in Baptism, when God comes down to live his life of grace in us.  We get sloppy about these temples that we are, and just like the Temple of Jerusalem, these temples can become defiled.  And once again Jesus provides us with this season of Lent so that he can whip us into shape, overturn the tables of our sinfulness, and scatter the things we value which have no lasting value at all.  This time of prayer, fasting and penance is meant to cleanse our temples so that when we renew our Baptismal promises at Easter we can once again remember our lofty calling to be the living temples where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit abide and from which the Triune God can go out into the world to call all people to worship in spirit and in truth.

As part of the cleansing of the temple that Jesus wants to undertake during Lent, we are reminded of the Ten Commandments, which were recited to us in our first reading today from the Book of Exodus.  Sometimes our temples only need a little sweeping and polishing, but if they are in need of some more radical cleansing, Jesus comes to do just that.

The first three commandments are focused on God and our love for God.  Unless we get this right, nothing else will make much sense.  And so Jesus looks at our tendency to make ourselves gods, thinking that we hold the ultimate power to decide what is truth, what is right or wrong, when life shall begin or end, and other things that belong to God alone.  Jesus is not afraid to overturn that notion, perhaps leaving us angry and indignant for a time, but in the end renewing us so that we can shine more brightly with the light of the true and living God.

The next five commandments have to do with our actions toward others.  God has placed others in authority over us – whether parents, employers, pastors or civic leaders – and, while we know that none of them are perfect, we often undermine authority by disrespecting people who exercise it.  As Jesus was obedient to his Father, even when he was being treated unjustly, so we are called to a certain obedience.  And if we are persons in authority over others, we often need to have our own motives and ways of acting whipped into shape so that we always serve and never dominate.  We are reminded not to kill, and this means even in the secrecy of abortion or by killing ourselves slowly by consuming things that will harm us.  Sometimes we need to have our tables turned over to realize that life is a gift of God that is to be respected by us.  Our sexuality is given to us as an incredibly beautiful gift that is always meant to glorify God, so Jesus will want to overturn our lustful and selfish approaches to sexuality.  We can often take what does not belong to us, thus diminishing trust in the entire community, and Jesus wants to whip us into shape to be honest and trustworthy people.  We can put other people down with our speech, thus defiling others who are also temples of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus wants to cleanse us of that destructive tendency.

The last two commandments relate to the thoughts of our hearts, reminding us that it does us no good to covet what does not belong to us.  Jesus wants to scatter those coins of false longing so that we can be more grateful for all the wonderful gifts that God has given us and use them for his glory and the good of our neighbor.

Jesus did not just cleanse the Temple of Jerusalem when it had become polluted and defiled, but he wants the temples that we are to be likewise cleansed and renewed, so that his zealous love can fill us once again and we can accept with joy our true destiny of giving glory to God in all we say, in all we do, in all we are.