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March 4, 1988     The Message
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March 4, 1988

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March 4, 1988 C, 00mmentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana : The Lord whom,you seek will ......... suddenly come to his Temple Gospel Commentary for Sunday, March 6, 1988 Third Sunday of Lent -- John 2:13-25 The Passover of the Jews was at hand. There are three Passovers mentioned in the Gospel of John. This is the first. The second will be mention- ed just before the feeding of the multitude in John 6:4; the third in 13:1 just before the Last Supper. John speaks of a Passover of the Jews but he prob- ably has in mind a Christian Passover since he associates his mention of the Passover with what were to the Christians eucharistic happenings -- the feeding of the multitude and the Last Supper. The Passover Lamb whose blood on the doorposts protected the Israelites from death has become for Christians the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Joh n 1:29). Even the mention of this first Passover probably is a reference to the Eucharist, since John has just given his readers the miracle of Cana with its emphasis on the good wine -- probably the Eucharist, and follows it with a reference to the bodily resurrection of Jesus in 2:21-22. For John the resurrection is the result of the Eucharist: "The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day." Our gospel today is the cleansing of the tem- ple. It is probable that Jesus went to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover as many pious Jews did. The gospel for Passion Sunday will show us something about this annual pffgrimage of which Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a part. It is on that occasion that Jesus, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, goes to the temple and cleans it out as he does here in today's gospel taken from John. In other words, John places this incident at the beginning of Jesus' ministry while the other gospels place it at the end where, at least to our way of thinking, it fits better. We know that in the Gospel of John the divinity of Jesus is much more evident in the words and deeds of Jesus than in the other gospels. Also, while in the other gospels the center of Jesus' ac- tivity is in the city of Capernaum, in John he spends much of his time in Jerusalem. Thus John has Jesus coming to Jerusalem already at the begin- ning of his public life rather than only at the end. It is as if he has in mind the words of Malachy 3:1-2: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple .... But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" The messenger is John the Baptizer. The Lord is Jesus. The reference to "who can endure the day of his coming" and "who can stand when he appears" must have been in the mind of John as he composed the gospel as e have it. Chapter one had dealt with the essenger, John the Baptizer. Chapter 2 deals with le Lord coming to his temple at whose coming no ne can stand. Malachy adds in 3:3 "He will urify the sons of Levi... till they present right offerings to the Lord." In view of the probability that his action of Jesus is directed more against the chief priests (sons of Levi) of the temple rather than against the merchants, Mal. 3:3 is an ap- propriate background to this temple cleansing. This is how our gospel authors and other theologians used the Old Testament scriptures, ever finding new ways to apply them to their cur- rent situation. We should not think of this buying and selling going on within the temple itself but only in one of the outer courts. The animals being sold were those needed for the sacrificial offerings. The sheep and oxen for those who could afford them; the pigeons for the offerings of the poor. Luke 2:24 places Mary and Joseph among the poor when he has them offering "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," on their visit to the temple for the purification of Mary. The money changers were also a necessary function. Every adult male Jew had to pay the head tax of a half-shekel annually to the temple. Many would have done this at the an- nual Passover pilgrimage. The money changers facilitated the collection of this tax by changing other money into the Tyrian half-shekel which was the only money accepted in the temple. Perhaps it did not have "graven images" on its face as did, for example, the Roman denarius of Jesus' day. The denarius had an engraving of the emperor Tiberius on one side. Jesus himself paid this tax as we see in Matthew 17:24-27. There Peter is told to go catch a fish, his old occupation, and to take the coin out of the mouth of the first fish he catches and go pay the tax for Jesus and himself. For- tunately the fish had the right change and no money changer was needed. If these were necessary functions why were they driven out? We do not know. We may assume that it was an attack on the chief priests who con- trolled whatever went on in and around the tem- ple. The sellers probably had to buy a concession from these controllers of the temple. They may also have taken some cream off the top of the pro- fits. There is plenty of evidence that the chief priests were the chief culprits in the death of Jesus and such an action on the part of Jesus may have brought about their deadly opposition. In this case the placement of the temple cleansing at the end of the ministry rather than at the beginning also fits better, since the priests would quickly have done away with Jesus after this affront to them and to their temple. We do not know how much of this incident is historical and how mttch is theology. There is probably an historical nucleus which has been developed through such texts as the one quoted above from Malachy. Another such text is Zechariah 14:21: "There shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day," and Zephaniah 1:11: "All the traders are no more; all who weigh out silver are cut off." After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the gospel tells us today, the disciples remembered the things he said and did and they took on new meaning for them. In the Gospel of Luke it is Jesus himself who teaches them that new meaning. In the Gospel of John it is the Holy Spirit who brings these things to mind. As we ponder the Scriptures during Lent we ask the same Spirit to be our guide not only in understanding them as the gospel authors did but in applying them to our own lives. The lesson we take from today's reading may well be the zeal with which Jesus went "about his work in purifying the temple. St. Paul reminds us in I Cor. 3:16 that we are the temple of God and his Spirit lives within us. Ephesians 2:21 speaks of the whole Church being the temple of God. During Lent we have set for ourselves the task of various penitential practices. Our zeal in pursuing these is our own way of purifying the temple which is ourselves and through ourselves the temple which is the whole Church. Other readings for March 0: Exodus 20:1.17; I Corinthians 1:22.25 Vatican Letter St. Peter's Basilica is a major art museum By AGOSTINO BONe NC News Service' VATICAN CITY (NC) -- St. Peter's Basilica, besides being the most important Catholic church in the world, is a major museum containing numerous . objects of religious, historical and artistic value. The building itself is a world treasure. It is also the world's largest tombstone, designed by some of the most famous artists and architects in Italian history. The 535,000-square-foot in- terior sits atop what Christian tradition and a wealth of ar- cheological evidence says is the grave of St. Peter, the fisherman chosen by Christ as the first pope. Its history is tied to popes, Roman emperors, kings and ,'" Catholic doctrine. And a visit is absolutely free as it is a functioning church with daily Masses. People can also go to confession in several different languages. Guided tours in English and several other languages are also free. Visitors can sign up at the Pilgrims' Service desk in the vestibule to the right of the main entrance. Inside, the most famous art work is "The Pieta," Michelangelo's marble statue of a tender, sorrowful Mary holding the limp body of her dead son, Jesus. The statue, completed in 1499 when Michelangelo was 24, is the on- ly sculpture signed by the artist who inscribed his name on a ribbon falling from Mary's left shoulder. Parts of the statue were destroyed in 1972 when a man attacked it with a hammer. The statue has since been restored and is now protected by bullet- proof glass. Michelangelo also designed the 445-foot-high dome over the papal altar in the center of the :church. As was common at the ,time, artists doubled 'as ar- chitects. The artist most represented in the basilica is Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 17th century sculptor. He finished the architectural work on the basilica and also designed St. Peter's Square and its surrounding eliptical- shaped colonnade. Bernini also sculpted several marble statues of popes in hum- ble prayer or seated in the pomp of their thrones and bedecked with brocaded robes, in keep- ing with the times when popes were also kings. In stark con- trast is his marble statue of the austere St. Longinus in a loose- ly draped robe holding his ', Roman centurion's lance. St. i Longinus is the Roman soldier who pierced Christ's side while he was on the cross. The cen- turion later converted to Chris- tianity. BUT THE BERNINI work which first attracts visitors' at- tention is his huge 96-foot-high bronze canopy, called the "baldacchino," above the papal altar in .the center of the church. The baldacchino was built for Pope Urban VIII and contains numerous bees on the bronze and marble coats of arms and banners decorating the I 'canopy. Bees were the symbol ' I of the Barberini family of which Pope Urban was a member. The bronze for the canopy were taken from the Pantheon, the most important religious shrine in the Roman Empire, built in the first century. The Pantheon, now a museum, is the oldest function- ing building in Rome. o The altar under the canopy is a slab of Greek marble taken from the forum of the first- century Roman Emperor Nerva. Bernini also created the bronze sculptures and designs at the back of the church sur- rounding the wooden Chair of St. Peter. Tradition says this is the episcopal chair used by Peter, but many historians now believe it is a chair given to Pope John VIII in 875 by the Emperor Charles the Bald. Other famous artists associated with the basilica are the Renaissance painter Raphael, who was involved in the architectural design, and the 18th century sculptor An- tonio Canova. Canova designed a monu- ment, near the entrance dedicated to the Stuart family, the Catholic royal family Of Scotland exiled to Rome near the end of the 17th century. A century later, a descendant of the Stuarts became a cardinal and was put in charge of the basilica. Another monument, this one by 17th century sculptor Carlo Fontana, is dedicated to another member of European royalty, Christina of Sweden. In 1655 she renounced the throne and her Lutheran faith to con- vert to Catholicism. She lived in Rome until her death in 1689. Walking in the basilica also uts one in the footsteps of the ishops of the First and Second Vatican Councils, which together defined the church doctrine that the pope in con- junction with the world college of bishops is infallible when speaking on matters of faith and morals. Both councils, held a century apart, took place in the basilica. But the basilica is basically a ' monument to St. Peter. A side altar, near the baldacchino, See VATICAN page 16