In preparation to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, people use one of many available examinations-of-conscience guides. I think a lot of them are based on the 10 Commandments – something we heard about in the first reading today. The guides are just that, a guide. How one uses them is another matter. I think too often the guides are used as a checklist rather than a gateway to a deeper reflection about the points and places in our lives that are in need to forgiveness, mercy and God’s grace. I wonder if today’s gospel might be a better model for examining our lives.
The gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple is riveting – or least it should be because it stands in stark contrast to our image of Jesus as gentle, soft-spoken, and compassionate. How many gospel accounts show Jesus calmly confronting the religious leaders with authoritative teaching and divine wisdom? But here, Jesus appears with his sleeves rolled up ready to mix it up. Whip in hand, he charges through the outer courts of the Temple. As it says in the Gospel: “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.” I often hear people using this passage as a justification for righteous anger. My own sense is that when you are holy as Jesus is holy, maybe, … but until then perhaps it is better to imagine yourself as one of the money changers who just had their table overturned.
Imagine the firebrand Jesus coming to your table, the slightest of pauses as he looks into the depth of your life, a frozen moment as you encounter Jesus. Laid out on several tables is your life in its fullness as person, parent, child, student, boss, worker, friend, lover, volunteer, worshiper, and all manner of things. Jesus is at your table staring into your soul… which table will he overturn?
Hold on to that moment in an examination of conscience.
Will it be the table of your livelihood, your relationships, or your manner of going through the world? Will it be the table that held that signs and markers of your success, the things in which you take pride? The table of your popularity? The table of your public persona? Is Jesus peering into the life you think is secreted from the world?
Hold on to those moments in an examination of conscience. Slowly you will imagine Jesus overturning tables, the “coins of your life” spilling onto the floor.
In the Temple courtyard, the merchants were left among the flotsam and jetsam of the trade as Jesus moves on. What will they do next? Which is the same question you should face in your examination Certainly, come to the Sacrament of Confession, but seeing a part of your life spilled onto the floor, what’s next? It seems to me you have a couple of choices. You could just murmur “that guy is crazy!” and just set the table back up, just the way it was as I sure some merchants did. Or you could consider there was something prophetic, holy, and true that just took place that calls for conversion.
Maybe the table of your friendships and relationships was overturned. You didn’t think your friendship was for sale to the highest bidder, but there in the carnage on floor you see a pattern of “trading up” to a more interesting set of friends. Or maybe when you look closely you see the coinage of idle gossip, hidden judgment, inattentiveness, and a model of “but it is really about me.” Perhaps it is much more benign: you just haven’t paid any attention to your friends and have assumed upon their good and forgiving nature.
For many of you there is the table of marriage … and for my case, I can say vocation. If we look fairly, is it also a bit untended? Is so much energy going into the children that there is just not the energy and passion for each other that there once was? When was your last date? Maybe it’s time to shake things up and overturn a table or two.
What about the table of family? It is always been there, we can count on each other, right? Jesus looks at the table of your family – what will He see? Does the dinner table model the Table of the Eucharist where love reigns? Is there grace before the meal? Or perhaps it is more like a drive through restaurant as the family makes a pit stop before relentlessly moving off to all manner of outside activities. There is a lot going on in the family these days.
Amidst all the coming and goings of modern and complex family life, is the family the place where the virtues are modeled for one another; where the virtues are practiced. Isn’t it strange that sometimes families are the places where one forgives but doesn’t forget, where grudges linger, where mercy and compassion are not as freely given as they are outside the home?
When Jesus looks at the table of your family will he pass by or turn it over signaling the time for a new beginning? Perhaps we can take a look at what is on the table before Jesus arrives and make changes and few small repairs.
Those are just some possibilities. There are others: our lives at work, play, school, church, clubs, and more. Consider what is on the table as well as what is missing from the table. Do the contents of the table reflect a Christian at work, play, school, worship, and at home? Tough stuff. Good stuff. Where to begin? Begin in prayer that you may see honestly and clearly.
Jesus is coming. You can run through a checklist. Or maybe better, imagine how you should set the table of your life to receive Jesus into your home. It’s your choice.