There is a well-known passage from the second chapter in John’s Gospel in which Jesus drives the money-changers out of the Temple. It is perhaps familiar to people because it is one of the few places where we see Jesus’ anger in action.
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 things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”John 2:16
This passage (John 2:13-17) is quite powerful when we reflect upon the zeal Jesus has for the Temple. He makes a whip and physically drives out the money-changers. It is not hard to understand why Jesus was angry that day in the Temple. His Father’s house was not being used for worship but as a marketplace; rather than pouring out their lives to God in surrender and trust, the people in the Temple were seeking to store up earthly treasures. In a sense, God was being robbed.
Reflecting upon other passages in Scripture, especially Paul’s writings, we know that as members of the Church we are members of the Body of Christ. And, if Jesus is the true temple, then so too are we. We have become sacred dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. So, now imagine Jesus’ reaction when he encounters sin in his temple—in you and in me.
The Temple of Our Hearts
When he enters into the temples of our own hearts, what does he find? What have we allowed to sneak into our hearts, to clutter our worship space, and to distract our attention from the Father? What are we pouring our trust into rather than surrendering all to God? And, as a result, how have we felt the Lord’s zeal for our hearts? How do we respond?
Now, there is no need to respond in shame or disappointment with yourself. Jesus is consumed with zeal—divine charity in action—for you and for me. He seeks to conquer your heart and free it from anything that destroys it from being a worthy dwelling place for him. He is not cleaning the house to condemn you. Think of it this way, if I may . . .
You travel to a developing country and find that your body does not particularly like the bacteria found in that country’s water. Those little bacteria are not supposed to be in your body, even though they would love to set up shop and enjoy the new living conditions, soaking up the nutrients and multiplying to their heart’s content. So what does your body do? It violently forces them out, whether you like it or not. It may not be a convenient time to be sick, and it will certainly not be pretty, but it has to happen. And, isn’t it a blessing that our bodies can protect us from those little deadly invaders.
Similarly, Jesus will drive out what is not supposed to be in our hearts, be assured about that, and it may not be convenient or pretty. We cannot prevent Jesus’ zeal for our hearts (praise the Lord). The only thing we can prevent is how we respond to this cleansing. Do we allow Jesus to fill our purified hearts with his life-giving Spirit? Do we try our best not to clutter our hearts again and to stay focused on him? Or, do we become resentful, embarrassed, or distraught with this cleansing, and in doing so, hide ourselves even more from the one who only seeks to heal?
Receiving Jesus’ Love
Perhaps you have experienced this sort of cleansing before, or maybe multiple times, and you wonder if it will ever come to an end. To continue with the bacteria analogy, the cleansing can come to an end. We need to strive to build up our spiritual immune systems, so to speak, with regular participation in the sacraments, especially confession and the Mass. A daily habit of prayer is to the soul like exercise is to the body—it’s difficult and even awkward at first, but over time the discipline is rewarding. While we do not achieve spiritual health as we do physical health (all analogies break down somewhere), our spiritual disciplines and practices do make us more open and receptive to grace and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The more we cooperate with grace, the less we will need extreme purges to get us back on track.
Whether you or someone you know is experiencing a spiritual cleansing, it is always important to focus on the zeal of Jesus during that time. Focus on the burning love of the Sacred Heart, the Passion and mercy poured out on the Cross, and the tender gaze of Jesus as he sees you perfectly. Run to him with abandon and never be discouraged by the messiness or trials that are placed before you. Jesus burns with love for you and zealously longs for your heart to be his and his alone.
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Caroline Harvey is the associate communication director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Prior to working at the archdiocese, Caroline worked in various ministry positions throughout southeast Wisconsin, focusing on teaching and discipleship. She is pursuing a doctor of ministry degree in liturgical catechesis from the Catholic University of America. She has a master of arts degree in biblical theology and a bachelor of arts in communications media from John Paul the Great Catholic University.
Featured painting, “Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple” (1610) by Cecco del Caravaggio, sourced from Wikimedia Commons