This homily is based on John 2:13-25 for the Third Sunday of Lent.
Think about it: If you have anything you’d like to sell–whether new or secondhand–you can do it without leaving the comfort of your living room. Gone are the days of door-to-door salesmanship! All you have to do is post the item online, indicate your asking price, and wait for buyers. If you wish, you can even conduct an online auction and go for the highest online bidder.
My somewhat belated fascination with eBay has been prompted by the Gospel reading for today: Our Lord walks into the Temple of Jerusalem and finds not a solemn congregation in deep prayer and worship, but–to his horror–a mob of merchants and customers engaged in frenetic buying and selling, and as business tends to go then and now, haggling and cheating. The Lord is so horrified, especially by the cheating of the poor, that we’re told he actually makes a whip out of cord to drive the merchants out.
So this Sunday, here’s the question that I ask myself–and I suggest you ask yourself as well: Have I turned my relationship with God into some kind of marketplace as well? In other words, is my life on eBay?
Many of us tend to relate with God as though we were on eBay. We want something from Him, wrapping our agendas and interests piously in prayer, of course, and quite properly–especially in this season of Lent, offering something we are willling to give up in return. And often we also engage in some kind of bargaining and end up going for the highest bidder.
If our relationship with God sounds anything like that, then it can be described as primarily transactional: It’s based on a give-and-take interaction that is the very basis of all businesses and marketplaces. If such is the case, then we have turned our relationship with God indeed into a marketplace, and should the Lord pay us a visit, we can be sure that he won’t exactly be very encouraging or supportive.
If you’re anything like me, you won’t exactly relish the thought of the Lord overturning tables and driving people out as he does in the reading today. So before that happens, we need to rearrange the furniture of our temple so that it begins to look less like a marketplace and more like a house of prayer.
What we find in an authentic temple is not a bunch of merchants and customers wheeling and dealing for the most profitable deals. Instead we find worshippers who are grateful that God has adopted them as His children. They are there not because they deserve to be there, but because they have been given the undeserved gift to be in God’s presence.
Their relationship with God, therefore, is not characterized by any trace of self-entitlement, nor is it driven primarily or purely by self-interests. There will always be self-interest, let’s be honest about that: We always somehow do want and need something from God, but it is not the main driving force of our relationship, as it is in transactional buy-and-sell relationships. Rather, we try our best to accept whatever our Father in heaven decides to grant us, and we open our hands and hearts in gratitude for His every blessing.
So as we prepare to enter more deeply into the mysteries of Lent, it may be helpful to examine if we’re running our relationship with God like a virtual marketplace. If that is so, maybe it’s time to move the furniture around.