In the 1990s, Christian teens and young adults walked around with a simple reminder on their wrists, a bracelet with the letters WWJD—What Would Jesus Do.
This week’s gospel is a favourite, interpreted as Jesus’ taking action against the commercial activities on the holy ground of the temple. His flipping tables, whipping the sheep and cattle and chasing all merchants and money lenders out of the court in a righteous rage is evocative, especially in a man seen as altogether peaceful and loving.
St Augustine in his sermons on John comments on this scene. He says: “For you know, beloved, that sacrifices were given to that people, in consideration of the carnal mind and stony heart yet in them, to keep them from falling away to idols: and they offered there for sacrifices oxen, sheep, and doves: you know this, for you have read it. It was not a great sin, then, if they sold in the temple that which was bought for the purpose of offering in the temple: and yet He cast them out thence.”
The cleansing of the temple and Jesus’ own comments usher in a new ideology, a different concept of Christ as sacrifice (not the animals) and as living temple. As harbinger of change, Christ in His short years of ministry exposed the hypocrisy, corruption of the old systems—political, social, religious—and the necessity of an alternate and better system.
His were not merely words but coincided with action. He did, through attending to people’s needs.
In a Netflix documentary called ‘I Am’, filmmaker Tom Shadyac, attempts to understand the root of the endemic social issues that plague the world. He talks to philosophers, scientists, spiritual leaders, and activists and examines his own journey after an accident.
Shadyac comes to a simple and known conclusion, that separateness and competition for resources are false premises; the solution is love, but an active love. It is separateness and competition, falsely accredited to a natural primal instinct in all beings, that have exacerbated the misery felt by so many.
The Dalai Lama, in the documentary, was quoted as saying that what is important is “critical thinking followed by action. Discern what your world is, know this the plot, the scenario of human drama, and know where your talents might fit in to make a better world.”
Popes have emphasised this urgent requirement for “better” repeatedly, with every facet of human existence: business, climate, economies, migrants etc.
In Gaudium et Spes, John Paul VI states: “…while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gains the whole world and lose himself, (22) the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age” (#39).
This March makes it a year since COVID-19 has affected Trinidad and Tobago, essentially disrupting the individual status quo. The worldwide pause, however, has thrust into the fore the ways in which the old systems have failed many, stripping them of fundamental rights to safety, security, justice, and economic stability. These may seem like macro issues outside the individual’s scope of control.
Imagine, though, if many acted as Christ did in small ways in their sphere of control and in their everyday lives. It is a particularly important mindset during Lent which can unwittingly become more about Self than the Other as acts of abstinence, repentance, and almsgiving.
The Catholic life lived for the common good and which seeks to minister as normal practice walks in the mind of Christ and fosters a new earth. It can be done.