“Words are choice and precious vessels that can be filled with anything, even the wine of error.” ~ Augustine, the Confessions
Words express the way we relate with the world. If we pay attention to the way we speak, we will probably grasp something about the way we love. Some people, in fact, choose silence and would prefer not to speak while others fill the void with the constant sound of their own voices, while still others choose their words prudently.
When we speak, we are always giving others something of ourselves. Words can be bridges that connect us to other people, but they can also be barriers that are difficult to scale. For this reason, we ought to handle these precious instruments with special care.
God also speaks. In the Bible, God speaks from beginning to end: God creates through words. Jesus is the Word made flesh. In the midst of it all we find the “ten words” given as gifts on Mount Sinai. They are words capable of guiding every man and woman along the path of freedom.
The book of Exodus places these words along the path the people of Israel are taking towards the Promised Land. They are at the heart of this journey towards freedom. When we love someone, little by little we discover what he or she likes and what helps him or her. And so we learn what it takes to be in a relationship with that person.
The words that God speaks to Israel are a proposal. They represent the criteria they need to follow to live in relationship with Him. Those words create a blessed space, not unlike the Promised Land itself or even the Garden of Eden. It is the place of the relationship with God. We are always free to stay in this blessed land or to go on our way. The words are the borders, they mark off the limits by which we can orient ourselves. Are we within this relationship or have we abandoned it?
It is possible to stay in a place without inhabiting it any longer. We can share a house with another person but only as two separated spouses, using it only as an inn. Our relationship with God can also be treated in this way. The Temple is the place of our relationship with God – our sacred meeting place with Him. Jesus sees that people have stayed in His Father’s house, but no longer live in the relationship that should inhabit it.
Jesus urges those who no longer live in relationship with God to conversion. These are the people that use the Temple – or, in other words, the spiritual life, the Church, the community, or even the priesthood – merely out of self-interest, without believing in it.
After the Resurrection, the space belonging to the relationship with God is no longer the Temple: when Jesus dies on the Cross, the curtain of the Temple is torn – it is definitively opened – because divinity is no longer hidden in the Ark of the Covenant. It is visible to all. The heart of Christ is now the proper space in which we should inhabit our relationship with God. The Body of Christ is the new and eternal Temple. The Word was made flesh, the eternal Word, spoken once and for all. He is the faithfulness of God that will never die.
But what about me? How is my relationship with God? Do I inhabit this home to the fullest or am I just using it, taking up space? This passage from the Gospel pertains to those of us who frequent the Temple the most, who carry out ministries and projects in this place but often, like the older son of the parable, dwell in the house of the Father without having any relationship with Him.
Questions for personal reflection:
- How do I use words in my most important relationships?
- How do I cultivate my relationship with God?
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John (2:13-25)
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
The Gospel of the Lord
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