Driving Out Junk Religion

The dramatic account of the Cleansing of the Temple found in chapter 2 of the Gospel of John tells of Jesus going to the Jerusalem temple where He finds merchants selling oxen, sheep, and doves and money changers sitting at their tables. Making a whip out of cords, He drives them out of the temple area, overturns the moneychangers’ tables and orders them to “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (v. 16).

Jesus did not strike anyone, but this dramatic action so close to Passover, certainly got the attention of the crowds and sparked a backlash from the religious authorities and from those whose economic interests were being threatened. Jesus’ behavior in this account challenges us to seek not our own advantages and interests, but the glory of God who is love. Jesus’s bold intervention cleansed the Temple of “junk religion” to make room for real religion. What does junk religion look like today?

Put simply, junk religion is picking and choosing elements of the Catholic Tradition that support our personal agenda while conveniently putting on blinders to those Catholic elements that don’t. We can do all the right things—attend Mass regularly, appreciate good liturgy, give generously, quote scripture and even understand some theology, but if we don’t let the Gospel penetrate to the depth of our hearts, we end up domesticating the Catholic faith and reducing it to “junk religion.” Without that deep commitment, religion becomes less about the Good News and more about oneself and one’s personal ideology—no matter which end of the political spectrum we find ourselves.

The Gospel calls us to embrace the Way of Jesus, which is self-emptying and forgiving. We are called to be nonviolent and to promote justice and goodness. And we need to do those things both in season and out when it is easy and when isn’t. When the going got tough, the Israelites wanted to return to the comfort and security of their old life in Egypt. Like them, we may be tempted to wear religion as a garment that makes a statement about us rather than letting it be a leaven that changes us from within. We must remember that we are instruments of God’s generous and supportive love and be steadfast to our call.

Our ritual and devotional practices will remind us that true adoration of God consists of giving thanks for life and expressing gratitude by sharing our lives with others. If we do that, we will incarnate the risen Christ in the here and now. We will usher peace with justice into our community. In sum, we will be practicing genuine religion, binding ourselves to a God who only wants to love us and be loved in return.

Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He is a teacher of Theology and serves in adult faith formation and spiritual direction.

Shalom Tidings

Published by Positive Living

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