INSTITUTIONAL FAITH

There are various types of institutions in our society. For example, we have governmental, political, academic, and religious institutions. We have financial, legal, cultural, and athletic institutions, and those that provide health care, and those that bring us the news and connect us to the digital world.

Those institutions have something in common. Over the past years, many of them have lost the trust and respect of the public. Some are seen as corrupt, dishonest, self-serving, exploitive, and unfaithful to their stated mission and purpose. It appears that faith in societal institutions has declined.

That has caused some people to become cynical, detached, and to cease their involvement and support.

It has driven other people to protest and attack those institutions that they judge to be failing. There have been times when buildings and property associated with such institutions and organizations have been vandalized and even destroyed by those protesting their shortcomings and failures.

In this Sunday’s Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent (John 2:13-25), we read of Jesus coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. We might say he comes to the headquarters of institutional Judaism.

There he sees merchants selling “approved” animals for sacrifice, and moneychangers converting Roman currency into coins “approved” for religious donations.

Those engaged in these activities were doing so for a profit and with the consent and collusion of the religious authorities. There was money to be made from religion!

What Jesus observes compels him to action. Justifiably angry, he drives these profiteers from the Temple as he shouts, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

Jesus did not deface the Temple or call for its destruction. He did not demand an end to the worship taking place within its walls. He did not insist this Jewish religious institution be shut down.

Rather, Jesus addressed the real problem, namely, merchants, moneychangers, and Temple authorities who were putting money before God. The problem was not the institution itself but the people who were using the institution for personal gain. The problem was sinful people.

After all, Jesus himself continued to come to the Temple. As Jesus told the high priest during his interrogation, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing.” (John 18:20)

The problem with any institution is not the institution itself. Institutions do not exist on their own; they are composed of people. Jesus did not confront a building, a structure, an organization that day in the Temple. He confronted the people who were degrading that religious institution.

Today’s Lenten Gospel challenges us to consider the many financial, religious, academic, social, governmental, cultural, political, and business institutions of which we are a part. And then to ask ourselves if our involvement is making them better, more moral organizations? Or if our behavior is only adding to the reasons why people are losing faith in institutions?

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski