I’m not interested in Wall Street; kindly excuse my nonchalance. The DOW and NASDAQ may go up or down all they want; I’ll be unmoved. Don’t be shocked at my confession. My attitude isn’t that of a dimwit uninformed about the workings of an economic system. My ignorance is rather purposive. Studying probabilities—the statistical principle that undergirds financial speculations—sealed my lack of interest in the conjecturing that surrounds the Stock Market and the very lucrative casino industry. It hasn’t stopped confounding many that an eight-block-long street in Lower Manhattan should be the cause of many heartaches and loss of life. Or that Las Vegas and its cancerous casinos should be the center of carnage and wreckage of life, and recently of limbs. Its surprising accolade, “Sin City,” reveals the notoriety of Las Vegas as a moral gutter and center of unbridled greed and chicanery—a plastic city, alive and shining brightly at night for the reign of sin and perversity, but ugly and dry before the true light of the sun.
You may have heard that currency exchange and trading with money originated at nowhere else than the temple of Jerusalem. The episode in today’s gospel happened at the court of the Gentiles, situated inside one of the temple chambers. It is the Temple Wall Street. The religious administrators of the temple were diligent in providing worshippers with supplies of quality sheep, cattle, oxen, and doves for the temple sacrifices. But given that majority of the worshippers came from all over to visit the temple, they were made to exchange their “dirty” pagan money for the “only holy” temple money. Their pagan money and even the Roman coin in use all over the land contained the images of pagan gods and were considered unfit for buying “holy” rams, “holy” oxen, and “holy” doves for the sacrifice. Soon a lucrative system of money exchange was born, introducing another tributary to the banking industry. It was only to be expected that this barter would dominate the life of the people engaged in it and upend any semblance of divine worship in the temple. In fact, worship of money quickly took over the worship of God.
Jesus saw through this perverse greed and trafficking going on inside the temple and would not take it. His just anger was unleashed against the perpetrators as He became a one-man riot squad. Isn’t it surprising that no one challenged Him for “disturbing” the peace and the free flow of the temple sacrifice? They rather asked for a sign to which He gave a curious answer: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” It sounded like the temple priests and their cohorts in the exchange business were caught with their hands inside the cookie jar. They knew it was disingenuous to pretend that they were providing a holy service when they pocketed the unholy money. They also knew that the temple service had outlived its purpose and was no longer faithful to its avowed intent—the true worship of God. Somehow they’d been expecting that someone will challenge the status quo and drain the swamp. But as we’ve learned from the relationship between Wall Street and Washington, swamp-dwellers will spill blood rather than give up their filth. It would take the destruction of Jesus’ body to rebuild the already moribund temple.
You need not look too far to notice similar trafficking going on in our society and churches by gospel-poachers who traffic on the Word of God, employing God’s name to extort money from vulnerable worshippers. Their personal mansions, private jets, custom-made cars, and fat bank accounts are telltales of their bravado in turning the house of God to a marketplace.
We too can be guilty of turning God’s temple into a den of thieves through a disregard of the covenant and the commandments of God enshrined in our hearts. We also desecrate God’s temple through the noise and distractions we cause others during Mass, the way we dress for Mass, and how we treat our body, which is the temple of God’s Spirit. Sins of pornography, prostitution, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality profane this temple, too. This Lent, Christians are called to team with Jesus in the work of rebuilding this temple.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo