He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. 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…At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (John 2:14-19)
The Lord Jesus drove the greedy merchants and money-changers from the Temple. The Jewish leaders envied Christ’s authority and power. So in the gospel reading, we have seen both greed and envy. These are two of the seven deadly sins.
The Lord cleansed the Temple because He was filled with zeal for the holiness of His Father’s house. He is also filled with zeal for our holiness, since we have been redeemed by the shedding of His Precious Blood. Each of us has been made into His temple. The Lord pours out His grace from heaven to drive vice out of our souls. Our role is to co-operate and strive for virtue.
Let’s consider the two vices we saw at work in the gospel reading.
First, greed. Greed is loving money, possessions, or power more than God. Why do we get greedy?
The fundamental reason we get greedy is our desire for happiness. Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing in and itself wrong with wanting to be happy. It is human nature to want to be happy. Our desire for happiness is like gravity: it is an inexorable force. This force will continue to move us until we find peace and abiding happiness.
God made us this way originally. To understand greed, we also have to consider our human nature as it is now, after the Fall of man. We have a tendency to be greedy when we pursue happiness because of two particular effects of Adam and Eve’s sin.
First: When God put our First Parents in the Garden of Eden, they were more aware of reality than we are now. The Fall has caused our vision to be clouded. We can only perceive God through the darkness of faith. Therefore, it is often difficult for us to focus on God. Instead, we become distracted by visible, material things.
Secondly, because of the Fall, the human race was expelled from paradise. We are left to get our daily bread by the sweat of our brow. We have to struggle to obtain the food, clothing, and shelter we need. Because of the difficulty involved, we have a tendency to over-compensate and hold on to too much, with too firm a grip.
Scripture says: “In God alone is my soul at rest.” Our true happiness is God and God alone. Nothing else will satisfy us. The pleasures of this world are fine for a time, but they fade.
Two methods for overcoming avarice are: 1) meditating on the shortness of earthly life, compared to eternity, and 2) giving your money and possessions away.
In the second reading, we heard St. Paul declare the divine power and wisdom of Christ crucified. God’s power is love, and God’s wisdom is love. Christ went to the Cross because He loves us, because He wills our good. In His bitter Passion, Christ has given us the perfect example of selfless charity.
The opposite of the virtue of charity is the vice of envy. Envy is the devil’s most beloved trick. Envy twists our emotions completely out of whack. God made us to love and rejoice in everything that is truly good. But envy makes us sad when others do well, and it makes us happy when they fail. Scripture says that envy is “rottenness of the bones.” Envy makes people mean. Envy led the scribes and Pharisees to condemn the perfectly righteous Son of God.
As we recalled last Sunday, the sin of pride is a “perverse desire for excellence.” The sinfully proud man wants to be exalted in a way that does not conform with the truth. Pride’s delusion of grandeur gives rise to the sin of envy, since the goodness and success of others is a threat to the proud man.
The works of envy are everywhere: gossip, backbiting, detraction. Envy hides itself from our conscience: the envious man is remarkably adept at finding self-righteous justifications for his meanness. The envious person gossips and slanders without remorse. It is no accident that we say that jealous people are “blind with envy.” Envy blinds us to the reality of other people’s true goodness.
How can we conquer envy? The antidote to envy is charity, the charity of Christ Himself. Christ would have humbly gone to His death for any single sinner on earth. I can keep envy from tricking me into despising someone by remembering that Christ died for the love of every human being. I myself am at the top of the list of sinners. May God save everyone. If there is someone I think doesn’t deserve God’s mercy and love, let me pray that God will save that person FIRST.
Christ is poor in spirit and full of gracious love. He will conquer our greed and envy if we pray and co-operate.