This Sunday, we read the story of the Cleansing of the Temple in the Gospel of John. What’s interesting with John’s narrative is that he places it at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, right after the miracle at the wedding in Cana.
The Synoptic Gospels put this at the end, after Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem —quite like a final public statement prior to his last moments leading to his Passion and Cross.
While you might be familiar with the Cleansing of the Temple, let’s contemplate this passage: “But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (John 2: 24-25)
Now let me invite you to reflect on it from the perspective of the Synoptic Gospels. It is interesting to note that this narrative comes after two significant moments in both Gospels, as mentioned earlier. Both somehow give the narrative a specific context, most especially this last part of the passage.
Points for reflection
Let me add two other passages, one from Scripture and one from St. Augustine, to help in our reflection.
From Augustine, we have the famous line: “You are more intimate to me than I am to myself.”
From Scripture, let us take the weeping of Christ over Jerusalem from the Synoptic Gospels: “As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If this day you only knew what makes for peace but now it is hidden from your eyes … because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.’” (Luke 19: 41-44)
This makes us understand the intense emotions that Christ experienced in the Cleansing of the Temple and sheds light on the last lines. His intimate knowledge of human nature was—and still is—part of his Cross. As he came closer and closer to the fulfillment of his mission, his Cross, we experience the heightening of his tension and struggle.
I think that part of the pain and agony of Christ was his helplessness in the face of human freedom. He knew that there were people who would reject him and his message out of the “hardness of their hearts.”
His love for his Father and for us grew to perfection as he grew into the perfect living-out of his mission, to die on the Cross for us and to clearly lay out the choice for us: “It is either you are with me or against me”; “whoever wishes to follow me must take up his cross and follow me”; “this is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
Having said this, there is a clear call to choose. This is powerfully conveyed by the image of the forgiving father in the Parable of the Lost Son who, after his two sons “reject” him, does not tire of reaching out to them. He humbly waits for them and always goes to them —the “sinners”—to welcome and bring them home. It is a waiting and welcoming love.
Recently, I was “stunned” by what someone said. As we were preparing for Mass, he nonchalantly remarked, “At the Mass we don’t really welcome Christ. Christ welcomes us.” It hit me— yes, indeed, Christ welcomes us in the Eucharist and not the other way around.
Maybe we’re too busy becoming worthy, trying to be worthy to welcome Christ, that as he comes into our presence he “is hidden from your eyes … because,” in Christ’s words, “you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
This brought me back to the story of Christ appearing to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, one of my favorite Resurrection stories. In their grief and pain, they failed to recognize the time of their visitation.
Yet the Lord will not tire. He will judge us, yes, but he will try and try again until we remember. He will help us remember by walking with us, accompanying us in the different stages of our journey.
And in the midst of the pain and uncertainty of the journey we are often visited by the grace and opportunity to choose again, because Christ, the Risen Christ, is the one who walks with us.
As John’s Gospel for this Sunday ends, “He knew them all and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.”
Yes, he understands us, and this was what made him condemn the hypocrisy and hardness of heart of the scribes and the Pharisees. But this is also the same Christ who understands us, our struggles, trials and temptations in living out our mission, our efforts to follow him more nearly.
He understands us because he went through similar struggles, trials and temptations. Like us, he almost threw in the towel; “if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.” And we pray that we may be like him, following him in the choice to offer his loving obedience to his Father’s will and mission for him: “Not my will but Thy will be done.”
Lent is a time to renew these final chapters in the story of Christ—to remember and bring to life the graces of the story.
The wrath and anger of Christ cleansing the temple come from the same zeal and passion that made him go all the way to the Cross. This is what made the Resurrection possible.
This is what makes possible for the Risen Christ to journey with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus then and now—and always—with all who journey the same road; to journey with us that we may remember, and as we remember we may feel our “hearts burning within.”
And as the Emmaus story ends, we will recognize the time of our visitation because we will come to know him at the breaking of bread where Christ always welcomes us. This is how he knows us, because this is how much he loves us.