Here is my homily for the Third Sunday of Lent. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/031509a.shtml – Thanks for reading and your feedback! God Bless, Fr Jim
Bernie Madoff. Could there be a more, for lack of a better word, “hated” man in the American public’s minds right now? This confessed, imprisoned man orchestrated a “Ponzi” scheme which in effect stole around $64 billion dollars from people, for some eliminating their entire retirement funds or savings accounts. Even after being caught, what got people even more upset was that Madoff seemed so unremorseful. The fact that this happened during a difficult economic time for the country seems to have attracted even more attention then maybe it would have otherwise.
It’s hard to have any sympathy for the man. Especially as he’s living this luxurious lifestyle –
even after his arrest as he was awaiting trial – while so many others are watching their financial security disappear. It seems to inspire a sense of righteous indignation among us. Perhaps that’s why so many of us who aren’t victims of Madoff’s scheme were glued to this story. People on the street were interviewed saying how happy they were to see these pictures of him being handcuffed and led to jail. News programs did stories showing pictures of the cell he would be staying in, chronicling what his new life would be like. Headlines in the newspapers said “Inside peek at rat’s new cage”; or “Pathetic, pathological pig has learned absolutely nothing.”
Yeah, not a lot of sympathy for Bernie Madoff. What is driving such rage? Hypocrisy. Here’s a man who they had trusted to secure their financial futures and instead he was a complete fraud, blowing all that cash.
That’s probably what’s driving the vast public (who up until December never heard of this guy) interest in this case. We don’t care much for any criminals, but those who are hypocrites seem to really raise our wrath. We don’t just want justice in those cases, we want them to “get theirs”.
That’s why this Gospel scene is a favorite for a lot of people. Jesus runs a little hot in this story – as he confronts hypocrites. A little background to the story – the “selling” of cattle, sheep, pigeons, the money changers, it started out as a good thing. Pilgrims visiting the temple wanted to offer a sacrifice to God (they were still doing that back then). But there had to be specific types of animals. You couldn’t offer just any old pigeon to God. So they had set up these tables, where people could purchase acceptable sacrifices.
But in time, the money changers started to charge these crazy fees for their services. The vendors selling these animals for sacrifices had overcharged the pilgrims. And so a humble offering that a pilgrim wanted to make to the Lord had become an occasion for greed, extortion. All of these people had taken something that was holy and sacred and were more interested in their wealth.
Jesus, seeing this hypocrisy, seeing his Father’s house, seeing these people who sincerely and genuinely wanted to make an offering acceptable to his Father – well he just snaps upon seeing it. For the Jews, the Temple was the Holiest place in the world. It was in the Temple where God and man could meet. Seeing it defiled in this way, well, it causes him to get so infuriated he knocks over the tables, he drives them out, as he is FILLED with this righteous indignation.
Stick it to them Jesus!
Before we cheer too loudly though, this Gospel coming during the season of Lent addresses us too. As Baptized Christians, each of us has become a “temple” for God. The Holy Spirit dwells within us. Over time, we have maybe let vendors and moneychangers into our lives too. There’s elements of our lives where maybe we’re being hypocrites in that what we profess to believe is very far off from how we actually live.
As Jesus enters the temples of our hearts, he’s taking a look around right now and asking “do I need to start knocking over some tables?” Lent in a sense gives us the opportunity to avoid that from happening. We have this time to see where we are in our relationship with one another and with the Lord. To see how our lives don’t always offer the perfect worship to the Lord that he deserves and then do something about it. He gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way to examine our conscience, be forgiven and start new. We have the opportunity to clear out the fraudulent moneychangers, the criminal vendors, the hypocritic things that have crept into our lives. Wouldn’t it be much better if we cleaned up the mess rather than making Jesus angry?