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Today’s gospel (Jn 2:13-25) describes Jesus purifying the Temple in Jerusalem. Outraged by the commercialisation of this sacred but also politicised space, seeing the animals being sold for sacrifice and moneychangers exploiting foreign visitors during the busy time of Passover, he reacted with anger. He made a whip of cords and drove the animal merchants out; and then turned the money-changers’ tables over scattering their coins. His reason was clear: ‘You must not turn my father’s house into a market.’
Catholic pilgrimage sites, like Lourdes, have built their economies around pilgrims but, perhaps remembering this passage, the sacred zones themselves are commerce-free. Last month the Extinction Rebellion activists dressed in business attire occupied insurance companies in the City of London which, they claimed were complicit in climate chaos by insuring companies involved in environmental damag. The Occupy Movement protesting social and economic inequality disrupted Wall Street. Greta leads school-children strikes. In all these cases, as no doubt in the Temple, once the disruption is over, things return to normal and the money-changers haggle to recover their scattered coins. Protests like these don’t bring radical, lasting change; but they do raise and sustain awareness of injustice and challenge stay-at homes like most of us to take sides, thus helping us feel less helpless and hopeless.
They are easily dismissed as emotional, ineffective responses. But when people feel helpless what matters most to them is to enjoy freedom of self-expression – precisely what is being crushed in the rise of repressive totalitarianism in countries like Russia, China and Iran. We need protests that don’t seem to achieve anything but say something nonetheless. Yet anger without depth can lead nowhere or worse to bitterness and despair.
In the gospel Jesus explains his behaviour in the Temple in the deepest mystical terms: identifying the Temple with his own resurrected form of embodiment.
The wonderful film Jesus of Montreal, shows a contemporary Jesus-figure mirroring the events leading to his death and resurrection. He leads a motley group of actors among whom, in one scene, the Mary Magdalene figure is auditioning, lightly clad, for a TV beer commercial. Jesus is present in the studio and witnesses her mocking, degradation and humiliation by the producer. Jesus stands up and silently, calmly walks round pushing over the expensive cameras and lighting. This leads to his trial and eventual death.
We are obsessed with objectives, outcomes, measurables for all we do, oblivious to the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita on work: You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction. (BG 2:47).
Anytime, anywhere in the world when anyone sits to meditate, they are making the perfect protest against the illusion that underlies injustice. Each meditation witnesses to truth and kindness and bring them closer to being realised.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
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