“Because zeal for your house has consumed me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.”
Man and woman were created to be the image of God. Similarly, the Jewish Temple was built and made to image heaven. In the Letter to the Hebrews it says, “They worship in a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary.” (8:5) The tabernacle Moses built in the desert and the Temple King Solomon built in Israel were but “copies of the heavenly things” (9:23) The First Jewish Temple built by King David’s son was grand and beautiful. Indeed, the majesty of God’s House was supposed to inspire a longing for the heavenly homeland. The longing to see God in heaven is to be found in every human heart. As St. Augustine said, there is a pull towards God and try as we might, we cannot change it. Psalm 27 articulates this desire of the heart:
One thing I ask of the LORD;
This I seek:
To dwell in the LORD’s house
All the days of my life,
To gaze on the LORD’s beauty,
To visit his temple.
Yet, in the book of Revelation, we read that nothing unclean will enter heaven. No evil is tolerated. No sin or error is to be found there. All who enter must be purified completely. Indeed, the eternal Temple and dwelling place of God is pure holiness and goodness. If there is anything that provokes the anger of God it is the profanation of that which was made for innocence, such as children; and that which was made for sanctity, such as the human soul; and that which was made for the sacred, such as the sanctuary of the Temple.
According to the Gospels, Jesus cleansed the Temple at the beginning of his public ministry and at the end. Using a whip, he overturned money changing tables and drove out the money-changers themselves along with the ox and sheep. He then raised his voice and said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace!” As Fr. Cornelius Lapide said, “Christ look upon an indignity done to His Temple as done to Himself.” Mind you, buying and selling sheep was not considered to be evil by our Lord. Rather, what provoked his anger was the mundane transaction of the marketplace which had invaded the sacred space of the Temple. Worldly activity was tolerated in a place that was set apart for prayer, Scripture reading and worship.
The catalyst behind Christ’s zeal for his Father’s House, was not only an ardent love for holiness but an intense hatred for sin. Today, we do a decent job of encouraging Christians to love. However, what is often missing is fostering in Christians the logical consequence of that love; and the logical consequence is hatred for that which undermines love. It is not enough to love marital fidelity, one has to hate adultery. It is not enough to love humility, one has to hate pride. Perhaps this is why so many good priests had fallen from grace in recent years. The love for virtue may have been strong but hatred for vice was weak. Again, it is not enough to love the sacred, one has to hate sacrilege. This is precisely what our Lord demonstrated in the Temple. And, to be sure, he held nothing back in demonstrating such zeal.
Such a display of anger was done at the risk of losing the favor of the Scribes and the Priests. It even ensured his crucifixion. “This zeal of Christ was righteous indignation or rather ardor to do away with what was repugnant to God’s honor, so that He boldly exposed Himself, His life and His good name, to defend the honor of God, whom He loved above all things. For Christ did this before the proud and covetous Scribes and Pharisees, who opposed Him.”
St. Augustine asks, “Who is eaten up with zeal for the house of God?” and answers, “He who strives to amend everything which he sees amiss. He does not rest if he cannot rectify it. He groans and bays within himself, ‘My zeal has caused me to consume away because mine enemies have forgotten Thy words’” (Ps. cxix. 139). And another Church Father, St. Bede adds this:
“Let us have zeal for the house of God, my brethren. If we see a brother who belongs to the house of God swelling with pride, given to detraction, a slave to drunkenness, enervated with luxury, disturbed by anger, or subject to any other fault, let us strive, so far as in us lies, to rebuke him, to amend what is corrupt and perverse. And if we are powerless to amend any of these things, let us not endure them without the most bitter grief And especially in the house of prayer, where the Body of God is consecrated, where without doubt the angels are always present, let no folly take place, let us strive with all our might that nothing may hinder our own, or our brethren’s prayers.”
Notice that our Savior did not march over to the nearest pagan temple to cleanse it with his anger. Rather, he chastised his own people- the people of God. The prophets did the same. Even when Israel was being oppressed or menaced by foreign enemies, they turned their attention, not to the sins of others, but to the sins of the Jews. And the Saints did same as it pertained to their brothers and sister in Christ. St. Peter even said, “For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?”
It is a duty, therefore, that is incumbent on the Catholic clergy and laity to possess and nurture a Christ-like zeal for the Household of God. When evil or the worldly spirit is permitted to enter through its doors, we too should drive it out. If we don’t, God will…eventually. Approximately forty years after Jesus had overturned tables and had driven the money-changers and animals out of the Temple, in the year 70 A.D., the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Roman army during a four year uprising. Jesus had predicted such an event. He said not a stone would be left upon a stone. After his death and resurrection, he issued a similar warning to the churches in the book of Revelation.
“Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (2:5) As you may know, juest a few hundred years after this warning was spoken, all seven churches were reduced to nothing by Islam. The Cross was replaced by the Crecent and churches gave way to mosques. Could it be that the Christians of the 6th and 7th centuries (when Islam invaded the regions of the seven churches) fell into that same lukewarmness the Jews of the 1st century were mired in? And could it be that we struggle with a similar kind of lukewarmness?
What is the remedy, you ask. Look no further than Christ's zeal for his Father's House. Many in the 21st century Church do not understand it. They say that such zeal polarizes and is divisive. I say be zealous for God's holiness anyways! It may not be tomorrow, but someday you will be vindicated as Our Lord was on the Third Day.