Third Sunday of Lent B
Where does God live?
That’s a legitimate question to ask, is it not? Where does God live? It’s the sort of question you might actually be asked by a young child, or by a coworker who doesn’t have a background in the faith…but knows that you do. Where does God live?
Of course, one can answer, “Everywhere!” And that is perfectly true. God is not only omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing), but also omnipresent (present everywhere). And yet, believers in the one true God—from Old Testament times on—have identified certain places as ones where the Lord seems to like to hang out. They built altars and shrines in locales where they’d encountered the divine, and expected that they might do so again.
For the Jewish people, this was especially true of the temple in Jerusalem.
When the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert, God instructed them to erect a tent—called the “tabernacle”—where the Lord and his people might meet as he accompanied them all along their journey. When in time the Chosen People arrived in the Promised Land and Jerusalem became their capitol, the tent was abandoned for a grand temple built of stone—the symbolic heart and center of the entire nation.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of the temple to God’s People. We might be tempted to think of it as their “Vatican”: a grand house of prayer where many important ceremonies were held, but only really a larger version of the synagogues found in many Jewish towns. But that was not at all the case! Synagogues were schools where one could be instructed in the scriptures, but the Temple was the only place for true worship—the only place to offer sacrifice. (In connection to last Sunday’s readings: the temple was built on the very same mountain up which Abraham had led Isaac to offer him to the Lord.)
This is the place to which, more than anywhere else, the Jewish people could point and say, “That is where God lives.”
And that’s why it’s such a big deal when Jesus goes through the temple and trashes the place!
What Jesus is doing in cleansing the temple is more than a mere act of civil disobedience. This isn’t “Occupy Wall Street” or carrying a picket sign out in front of the Supreme Court to make some political statement. St. John tells us that, when Jesus speaks about destroying a temple and raising it up again in three days, “he was speaking about the temple of his body.”
Jesus is saying that the day has arrived when people should expect to begin meeting God elsewhere.
When Jesus’ disciples saw the livestock running helter-skelter in the sanctuary and tables heaped with coins dumped onto the floor, we’re told that they recalled a line from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Zeal is devotion and enthusiasm. It is eagerness, energy, and dedication. Zeal is fervor and passion. It is being on fire for something you believe it.
Jesus clearly had zeal for the place where God lived. But do we?
Let’s consider four specific “addresses” where we would say God lives…
(1) God lives in heaven. It’s to the Father’s right hand that Jesus ascended in his risen body after his resurrection.
How many of you want to go to heaven? (And, no, I don’t mean today!) Now, how many of you want to be saints? Because here’s the thing: the only people living with God in heaven are saints. Which means getting through the pearly gates must not be taken for granted. We have all been called to lead lives of holiness. And because we can’t do it on our own, God gives us every grace we need to live—now and forever—as the men and women he created us to be. But that requires our cooperation. Do we have the dedication, do we have the eagerness, do we have the zeal it takes to get to heaven?
(2) God lives in the tabernacle. Jesus left us his body and blood, soul and divinity, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. God is really right there!
What sort of zeal do we show for the Holy Eucharist? Is Sunday Mass just one more part of our usual routine, or the very highpoint of the whole week? Do we long to come here, or are we quick to find excuses? Do we prepare ourselves beforehand—by prayer and observing an hour-long fast? Do we take time afterward to thank the Lord for this most amazing gift? How do we behave in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament? Do we genuflect and otherwise show due reverence? Do we have devotion, do we have fervor, do we have real zeal for the Eucharist?
(3) God lives in his Church.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes we spell the word “church” with a capital “C,” and sometimes with a lowercase one? When we’re talking about a building, it’s the lowercase church, but it’s the community of those who believe in Jesus that is the capital “C” Church. (In fact, the church building is only called such because that’s where the Church’s people gather together.) The Church is more than a service organization, more than a social club. The Church is the body of Christ—and that’s more than a metaphor. Christ is the head of this body, we are members, and the Holy Spirit is its soul.
What sort of zeal do we have for the Church? Are we proud to be known as Catholics? Do we participate in the life of the parish? Do we treat one another with love as true brothers and sisters? When the Church speaks in an authoritative way, do we receive it as the voice of Christ or do we view it as just one more opinion among many? Are we ready to defend the Church? Are we on fire, do we have enthusiasm, do we have zeal for the Church?
(4) And God lives in you. By Baptism, you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. God dwells in you—and not just in your soul, but in your body, too, since to be human involves both.
What sort of zeal do we have for the God who dwells within us? Do we allow God to be present and active in all of our life—both what is seen and unseen? Do we show respect and reverence toward our own person? Am I taking good care of my body? Am I taking good care of my soul? Do what I say or don’t say, what I do or don’t do, give any indication of God’s place in my life? Do I have the passion, do I have the zeal, to let Jesus clear out some space within me that’s reserved for God and God alone?
Where does God live? The God of heaven came to dwell with us on earth, and remains with his Church always in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood—and so comes to live in you and me.
Zeal for God’s house consumed Jesus. May you and I also be consumed by zeal for all the places where God lives.