“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” These gracious words, the preamble to the Ten Commandments, are frequently overlooked as we concentrate on the substance of the commandments. It is, however, only within the context of Israel’s deliverance from a life of bondage that we can properly understand God’s commandments.
The Exodus was an act of pure grace. God has set his people free. He had taken them to himself in an entirely new relationship. He would be their God and they would be is people.
It is within this context of such a relationship that we should understand the commandments. They safeguard our relationships with God and each other. Each and every commandment can be understood as the expression of a relationship. Faithfulness to the one God is the proper response to his graciousness. Honouring the Sabbath provides the space for a loving relationship with God and neighbour. Fidelity within marriage protects the emotional security that is the foundation of personal and family growth. In the words of the psalmist, “the law of the Lord is indeed perfect, it gladdens the heart”. The commandments, therefore, far from restricting relationships, enable them to flourish. They safeguard all that we value most, all that enables our humanity to grow.
St John’s account of the cleansing of the temple highlights the conflict between the Gospel and a superficial faith. The Temple was more than a building. It was the visible expression of God’s presence among his people. Just as we can use people from motives of self-interest, so the custodians of the Temple cynically bent this Holy Place to their own commercial purposes. The reaction of Jesus, frequently misunderstood as a purely human anger, was zeal for his Father and the relationship that we share with him.
In the confrontation that followed Jesus described himself as the Sanctuary of God’s presence. “Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.” The evangelist went on to explain that Jesus was a speaking of the sanctuary that was his Body.
Elsewhere in the Gospel St John speaks of ourselves as the dwelling place of God. Those who are faithful to the will of the Father, believing in Jesus whom he has sent, shall become the dwelling place of Father, Son
and Holy Spirit. We shudder at the commercialism that so offended Jesus as he entered the temple. In prayer let us open our eyes to what lies within ourselves.
The parallel between the cleansing of the Temple and our own Lenten observance is obvious. Just as Jesus cleansed the temple, so we, during this season, repent of the sinful attitudes that disfigure our true identity as the dwelling place of God.
Today, more than ever, life has been reduced to a market place. Profit and loss are rapidly becoming the new morality. At the cleansing of the Temple Jesus clearly condemned such values. To many it seemed madness. In the words of St Paul, it was a wisdom that brings dignity to our lives. “Here we are preaching a crucified Christ, to the Jews an obstacle, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, a Christ who is the wisdom and power of God.”
We should not be afraid to find ourselves at odds with the prevailing values of a fallen world.