When reading about the Cleansing of the Temple, we might assume this was the first time in Jewish history that the Temple had been defiled and needed fixing. But that isn’t the case. In the second book of Chronicles we read, “…the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple.”
This is the tragedy of Israelite history. The nation that was supposed to be the bearer of God’s holiness had become unholy. The Temple, which was meant to be the dwelling place of God, had become an abomination.
But did God give up? No, he sent messenger after messenger to the people, calling them back to holiness. Isaiah, Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Elijah – all of them were the messengers of God, summoning Israel back to fidelity, “because he had compassion on his people.”
Still Israel remained faithless: “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets.” At which point the anger of the Lord was awakened.
God’s anger is not God’s emotional temper tantrum; it is the divine passion to set things right. Sometimes when things get too bad, they just have to be cleaned out. Remedies and halfway measures don’t work: a thorough cleansing is called for. Therefore God uses secondary causes in order to realize his will: “Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon.”
What does this have to do with us? It helps us interpret our own catastrophes. What does it mean when a marriage falls apart or a loved one is killed? How about when we lose our job or our Church is rocked with scandal? Might there be a cleansing going on in these cases, something purifying and clarifying?
In the Bible, the negative is always in service of a greater positive. But it happens in God’s way, on God’s timetable. This means we should never despair; never give up even when catastrophe strikes. The entire process is being watched and supervised by God.
By Fr Robert Barron