Kept in its place, money can serve the good of the human heart. Think of your own generosity to the appeals I make all the year round for good causes of all sorts. Our parishes are filled with good and generous hearts and it is a wonderful thing to see.
At the same time, we don’t have to look far to see how money can serve the darker side of the human heart, and even enslave it. There are people with dollar signs not only in their eyes but in their hearts. Nothing is spared the reach of a greedy heart, not even what is sacred. At the time of the Reformation, the practice of simony was rampant in the Catholic Church. Priests and prelates literally sold the sacraments. You wouldn’t get baptised or married without first handing over exorbitant sums of money. It was yet another terrible stain on the Church, truly worthy of the whip of Christ.
But it would be too easy to focus on that as the main point of today’s Gospel. What Jesus is pointing us to is something far more sublime. The Temple for the Jews was the very dwelling place of God. To enter its doors was to walk into God’s presence, to be caught up in God. The true Temple, as we can gather from Jesus’ words, is no longer that physical building, but the very body of Jesus himself. In him, God in person dwells. He is where we now meet and talk to God.
By cleansing the Temple, Jesus is giving to his disciples a sign of something far more dramatic. For Jesus himself will carry in the temple of his body on the Cross the defilement of all sin. It is he himself who will be whipped. Sin will die in and through his body and the life of grace and prayer will be restored in his resurrection. That same liberation from sin and restoration of grace and prayer is given to anyone who believes in Christ and enters into his Body, the Church. And even if we sin again after becoming part of his body, Jesus will keep cleansing us, not with whips, but with the power of his Holy Spirit.
This is why it is necessary for us to seek constantly to be freed from sin, so that our prayer through Jesus to the Father may come from a pure heart. Lent is intended to make us remember our baptism, when we were first purified by Jesus and became part of his Body. It is therefore intended to make us look again at ourselves now and seek the renewal of the grace of that baptism so that we can celebrate Easter with sincerity of heart. That renewal comes in many forms: in prayer, fasting, almsgiving, penance and in the sacrament of confession.
The Lord also gives us roadmaps to guide us, so that we can recognize the traps which our enemy lays for us. One such roadmap is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Think of them as ten forms of protection of as many and more precious treasures of your life. The first protects the ultimate treasure which is the true God himself. If we lose the true God and go after counterfeits, we will lose our true selves and become counterfeit. For man does not self-invent: he is created by the living God who alone can teach a man what and who he truly is. The second commandment protects the treasure of God’s name and the virtue of reverence and piety we owe to it for our own blessing and prosperity.
The third commandment protects the treasure of rest, true rest, rest in God and relief from the rigours of labour. Christ has elevated the day of rest to point us to our eternal rest in the Kingdom of Life and Resurrection. This commandment protects our bodies and souls from the relentless activity and busyness which can absorb and exhaust us. To rest in God means to worship and adore him in and through the body of his Son which is the Church and the sacrifice of the Eucharist.
The fourth commandment protects the treasure of ordered relationships and thus of the authority we all need to grow and mature properly both in our family and in society. This treasure then protects the most precious and fundamental treasure of us all in the fifth commandment, our very life. Relationships cannot be ordered if people think it their right to take another’s life or their own life. Such thinking eats at the foundation of family and society, for by it one person is claiming to be god over another or over themselves.
The sixth commandment protects the treasure of marriage and the proper exercise of the sexual faculty, and so it protects the beauty of conjugal intimacy and promotes a positive and life-giving understanding of being male and female, united in one body and cooperating with God himself in the creation of new life.
The seventh commandment protects the treasure of personal and private property which must always be seen in the proper balance with the fair distribution of wealth. The eighth commandment protects the treasure of the truth and of honesty in our relations with one another.
The ninth and tenth commandments protect the treasure of rejoicing in the good that other people are and the goods that they possess. They curtail the cancer of envy and makes us grateful to God for who we are and what we have.
Overall, the Ten Commandments protect true human freedom precisely by indicating its limits and by directing it to pursue that endless wealth of good things of every kind within those limits. To observe the Ten Commandments is to eat of all the trees in the garden while carefully refusing to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in its centre.
A person who lives faithfully within the commandments will know the joy of true freedom. They will remain free of the defilement of sin and they will experience their own bodies and souls as a house of prayer in which Christ himself is pleased to dwell.
A society that lives faithfully within the commandments will flourish in every dimension and facet of its life because it will be founded on the will of God and not on the power play between different actors. God’s will is the flourishing of our humanity and the Ten Commandments show us how to do it.