Stephen M. Curry, O.S.A.
North Andover, Massachusetts
Ex 20: 1-17 or Ex 20: 1-3, 7-8, 12-17
Ps 19: 8, 9, 10, 11
1 Cor 1: 22-25
Jn 2: 13-25
If we could travel in time, I would take us back 2000 years to the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. What we would find would be that coins were minted by hand. Each coin started off as a round slug of a precious metal like bronze, silver or gold. The slug was placed between two dies and then hammered into shape. Of all the coins that were minted in the Roman Empire, the ones produced in the town of Tyre were the most revered because they contained the purest amount of silver in them.
The common based currency at this point in time was the shekel. A shekel would be similar to saying that in the U.S. today, our currency is based upon the dollar. The Shekel of Tyre was the most respected coin that was minted because it was the coin that contained the purest amount of silver among all the silver coins minted in the Empire.
For the Jewish people, the Temple in Jerusalem was the central place where they worshiped God. Everything dedicated to God had to be “the best.” “Nothing but the best for God!” In this spirit of offering the best for God, the Temple would only allow people to use the Shekel of Tyre to purchase things like unblemished lambs and turtle doves for their sacrifice to God. Also, the Jewish people had to pay a half-shekel of Tyre for their annual Temple tax to support the Temple expenses, just like Christians support their local parishes today.
In order to offer the best for God, all Jewish people had to exchange their money into the Shekel of Tyre to make any purchases at the Temple. As devout followers of God tried to exchange their money, they often were cheated by the money changers who would exchange their coins for the Shekel of Tyre. For example, someone who would exchange five silver shekels from a silver coin minted elsewhere, might only receive four Shekels of Tyre in return. People often felt taken advantage of by the money changers because they did not get a fair exchange rate.
Within this historical context, we have today’s Gospel. Jesus enters the Temple in Jerusalem and sees the money changers financially exploiting the Jewish people. Jesus reacts to this abuse by overturning the money changers’ tables and confronts them for taking advantage of faithful practicing Jewish people. He challenges the money changers to “destroy the Temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
There are many theological implications to this quote from Jesus. The first message refers to Jesus’ own suffering and death and how he will be put to death and then raised up to new life three days later.
A second message is something symbolic. In scripture, the number three is symbolic for completion and new beginnings. We see examples of this symbolism when St. Paul was blinded for three days and then regains his sight when Ananias laid his hands on him. Another example is when Jesus died and rose again from the dead in three days.
It’s this second message of completion and new beginnings that we are called to focus on during this season of Lent. Lent is 40 days long. The number 40 is symbolic of purification, which is why Noah was in the ark for 40 days, and Moses was in the desert for 40 years. During our Lenten journey, as Christians we are called to purify ourselves of the sinfulness that we commit. We are called to ask the Lord for the graces to complete this purification and then start a new beginning that is focused on imitating the example of Christ our Lord.
In our own spiritual journey, we are challenged to be like Shekels of Tyre, whereby we offer ourselves up to the Lord to become the purest silver to God. We are challenged to purify ourselves to live out the message of the first reading. We are called to follow the Ten Commandments and do our best to honor our parents, preserve the sanctity of life, be faithful to our spouses, respect people’s property, tell the truth, and be respectful in the way that we treat one another and ourselves.
As we begin the third week of Lent, let us pray to God to give us the grace that we need to follow Him. Let the grace of God be like the die that will form us into a beautiful Shekel of Tyre so that we can offer ourselves up as “nothing but the best for God.”