A few weeks ago, I needed to get some American currency for a trip to the U.S. There was no time to get to a bank, so I decided to use one of those currency exchange kiosks at the airport. I was delighted to discover that the exchange rate they charged was actually better than I would have found at the banks. That delight, though, was short-lived as I saw that rate translate into actual dollars to be paid. Gulp. The price of exchange can be rather high.
On Sunday, we heard the account of Jesus encountering some money changers (John 2:13-25). It took place in the Temple, understood by the Jewish people to be the sacred dwelling of God, or, as Jesus referred to it, his Father's house. Jesus cleansed the Temple by driving out the money changers, since they had turned this holiest of venues into a marketplace.
As we ponder this scene, let's bring to mind the Christian doctrine that understands the human soul to be, itself, a temple in which God dwells, in virtue of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our hearts by the Risen Christ. The question arises: what exchanges am I allowing within me; has my soul become a "marketplace" in need of cleansing?
The other two Scripture passages from Sunday's mass give greater precision to these questions. Exodus 20:1-17 recounts the giving of the Ten Commandments. We might ask, "Do I exchange obedience to the commandments of God for the following of my own whims and desires?" In his first letter to the Corinthians (1:22-25), St. Paul observes how God's wise and loving plan of salvation, because it is centered upon the Cross, can seem like foolishness in the eyes of unbelievers. This cautions us to ask if we are exchanging trust in divine wisdom for confidence in human logic. Other questions come to mind: do I exchange virtue for vice, holiness for sin, truth for falsehood, reality for illusion and so on. The fundamental exchange at the root of all these "transactions" is that of trading faith in God for reliance upon the Self. This is the essence of the original sin in the Garden of Eden, and the price of that exchange was high beyond measure: the entrance into history of sin and death. Every time we ratify the original sin by making it our own, each time we exchange good for evil, we take to ourselves some of this cost and defile the temple of our soul. The temple stands in need of purification.
This is exactly what Jesus wishes to do for us in this Lenten season. The instrument by which he cleanses our temples is not a whip of cords; it is the sacrament of Penance. There, by his tender love and mercy, our hearts cease to be a marketplace of unholy exchanges and become once again a sacred space reserved for the praise of God.