The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
In John’s gospel, Jesus tells the moneylenders they are turning his Father’s house into a marketplace, while in the synoptic gospels, he says: “My house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves.”
Who is Jesus speaking to exactly, and in what sense are they like “thieves”?
It seems that while directly attacking “those who were selling things,” indirectly Jesus is addressing “the chief priests, the scribes and the leaders of the people,” symbolically evicting them from the temple in a kind of prophetic sign.
That they themselves interpret the act this way is suggested by the fact that immediately after this saying we learn that they are plotting his death.
The high priests and the leaders can be understood as “stealing” from both God and the poor. As those selling things in the temple seek to make a profit from the people’s devotion, the religious leaders arrogate to themselves power and prestige in the name of God.
Under their leadership, the Temple had become a huge banking center where the wealthy loaned money to the poor at exorbitant interest, ruthlessly exploiting their desperation. In this way too, the Temple had become a “den of thieves.”
As monks we are called to live in “a house of prayer” where, as our Constitutions say, “all things are ordered to contemplation.” Like those selling in the temple, like the high priests and scribes, our passions seek constantly to twist the gifts of monastic life to their own narrow benefit.
Each of us can ask ourselves, How am I tempted to turn the “house of prayer” into a “den of thieves”? Do I give myself generously to prayer, reading and work, to liturgy and the other “signature activities” of monastic life? Or am I simply coping, reacting, generating needless crises to avoid the desert of prayer?
Every day Jesus is “teaching in the temple area,” every moment, in each situation he is guiding us, giving us just what we need to wake up.
If, like the people of his time, we “hang on his words,” the passions will not be able to dislodge him from our hearts and he will cast them out. If we make his word our home, then, as he promised, we will truly be his disciples; we will know the truth of the Lord’s boundless, unconditional love, and that truth will set us free.