Beyond every mask and fig leaf

– Friday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time –

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45-46)

It is a famous saying of St Augustine that the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. Sometimes we find that the first reading has been paired up with the gospel in light of the correspondences between them and such appears to be the case today.

The first reading, from 1 Maccabees 4, describes the ruined state of the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been pillaged by Antiochus Epiphanes’ forces. It had been found desolate and overgrown, with the altar profaned, the gates burned, and the priests’ chambers in ruins.

The pairing of this reading with Luke’s description of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is suggestive. It invites a comparison between the decrepit physical state of the Temple in 1 Maccabees to the corrupt spiritual state of the Temple in Luke 19. In other words, although the Temple at the time of Jesus was quite grand (it had been restored and expanded by Herod), it seems to be being implied that, on a spiritual plane at least, it was the equivalent of a worthless ruin. Jesus expresses a similar idea in Matthew’s Gospel when he says the scribes and Pharisees “are like whitewashed tombs” who are beautiful on the outside but internally “are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” (Matthew 23:27). Jesus sees beyond every mask and fig leaf.

Lord, help us to be fitting temples of the Holy Spirit.  Help us purify our hearts and minds.

by Mark Makowiecki

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