VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2008 (Zenit) – Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at Sunday Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Year after year the Gospel passage for Palm Sunday relates to us Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Together with his disciples and a growing throng of pilgrims, he ascended from the plain of Galilee to the Holy City. Like steps in this ascent, the evangelists have transmitted three of Jesus’ announcements of his passion, using this at the same time to sketch the interior ascent that was also occurring in this pilgrimage. Jesus is on his way to the temple — toward the place where God, as Deuteronomy says, desired to “establish the dwelling” of his name (cf. 12:11; 14:23). The God who created heaven and earth has given a name, he has made himself available to be called upon, indeed, he has almost made himself touchable by men. No place can contain him and nevertheless, or precisely because of this, he himself gives himself a name, so that he, the true God, can personally be venerated there as the God in our midst.
From the story of the 12-year-old Jesus we know that he loved the temple as the house of his Father, as his paternal house. Now he comes again to this temple, but his journey goes beyond it: The ultimate goal of his ascent is the cross. It is the ascent that the letter to the Hebrews describes as an ascent to the tent that is not made of human hands, to the presence of God. The ascent to the presence of God passes through the cross. It is the ascent to that which is “love to the end” (cf. John 13:1), and is thus God’s true mountain, the definitive place of contact between God and man.
During the entry into Jerusalem the people pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David with the words of Psalm 118  of the pilgrims: “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest of heavens!” (Matthew 21:9). Then he arrives at the temple. But there, where there should be the space of the meeting between God and man, he finds people selling animals and money changers who use the place of prayer for their business. It is true that the animals being sold there are destined for sacrifice in the temple. And because it was forbidden to use coins in the temple on which there were representations of the emperor, which were in conflict with the true God, it was necessary to exchange them for coins that did not bear idolatrous images.
But all of that could have been done elsewhere: The place that it had now appropriated was supposed to be the atrium for the pagans. The God of Israel was in fact the God of all peoples. And even if the pagans did not enter, so to speak, into the interior of revelation, they could nevertheless, in the atrium, associate themselves with prayer to the one God. The God of Israel, the God of all men, was always also awaiting their prayer, their seeking, their invocation. But now, the atrium was dominated by business, business that had been legalized by the competent authority, an authority which, for its part, had a part of the merchants’ earnings.
The merchants were acting in a correct way according to the order that was in force, but the order itself was corrupt. “Greed is idolatry,” says the letter to the Colossians (cf. 3:5). It is this idolatry that Jesus encounters and in the face of which he cites Isaiah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13; cf. Isaiah 56:7) and Jeremiah: “But you have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13; cf. Jeremiah 7:11). Against the badly interpreted order Jesus, with his prophetic gesture, defends the true order of things that is found in the Law and the Prophets.
As Christians, all of this must make us think today: Is our faith pure and open enough that, beginning from it, the “pagans” — the persons today who are seeking and have their questions — can also intuit the light of the one God, can associate themselves with our prayer in the atriums of faith and by their seeking perhaps become worshippers? Does the awareness that greed is idolatry also reach our heart and our life practices? Do we not perhaps also allow idols to enter even into the world of our faith? Are we disposed to let the Lord purify us again and again, allowing him to chase out of us and the Church what is contrary to him?
In the purification of the temple, however, there is more going on than the struggle against abuses. A new moment in history has been foretold. What Jesus had announced to the Samaritan woman in regard to her question about worship is now beginning: “The hour has come, and is now here, in which the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; because the Father seeks such worshippers” (John 4:23). The time in which animals were sacrificed to God has ended. Animal sacrifice had always been a miserable substitution, a gesture of nostalgia for the true way of worshiping God. On the life and work of Jesus the letter to the Hebrews offers as a motto a phrase from Psalm 40 : “You did not want sacrifices or offerings, but a body you prepared for me” (Hebrews 10:5). The body of Christ, Christ himself, enters to take the place of the bloody sacrifices and the food offerings. Only the “love to the end,” only the love for men for which he gives himself totally to God, this is the true worship, the true sacrifice. Worshipping in spirit and truth means worshiping in communion with him who is truth; worshipping in the communion of his body, in which the Holy Spirit unites us.
The evangelists tell us that in the trial against Jesus false witnesses are presented and they claim that Jesus said: “I can destroy God’s temple and rebuild it in three days” (Matthew 26:61). Before Christ hanging on the cross some scoffers refer to the same words, screaming out: “You who will destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!” (Matthew 27:40). John, in his account of the purification of the temple, reports the true version of the words, as they came from the mouth of Jesus himself. Responding to a request for a sign, with which the Lord was supposed to legitimize himself, Jesus says: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it back up” (John 2:18 f.). John adds that, thinking again about this event after the resurrection, the disciples understood that Jesus had spoken of the temple of his body (cf. Jon 2:21 f.) It is not Jesus who destroys the temple; it is left to destruction by the attitude of those who transformed the place of meeting of all peoples with God into a “den of thieves,” a place of business.
But, as always from the fall of Adam, the failure of men becomes an occasion for a still greater commitment on the part of God’s love in regard to us. The hour of the temple of stone, the hour of the animal sacrifices had been left behind: The fact that Jesus now chases out the merchants does not only impede abuse, but indicates the new action of God. The new temple is formed: Jesus Christ himself, in whom God’s love comes down to men. He, in his life, is the new and living temple. He, who passed through the cross and is risen, is the living space of spirit and life in which the right worship is realized. Thus, the purification of the temple, as the culmination of Jesus’ solemn entry into Jerusalem is the sign both of the incumbent destruction of the building and the promise of the new temple; the promise of the kingdom of reconciliation and love that, in the communion with Christ, is established beyond every frontier.
St. Matthew, whose Gospel we hear this year, at the end of the Palm Sunday account, after the purification of the temple, reports to little events that have a prophetic character and once more make the true will of Jesus clear to us. Immediately after Jesus’ words about the house of prayer of all peoples, the evangelist continues thus: “The blind and the lame drew near to him in the temple and he healed them.” Furthermore, Matthew tells us that the children repeated the acclamation that the pilgrims made during the entry into the city: “Hosanna to the son of David!” (Matthew 21:14 f.).
To the trafficking in animals and the money exchange Jesus opposes his goodness that makes well again. It is the true purification of the temple. He does not come as a destroyer; he does not come with the sword of the revolutionary. He comes with the gift of healing. He dedicates himself to those who because of their infirmities have been pushed to the end of their life and to the margins of society. Jesus reveals God as he who loves, and his power as the power of love. And thus he says to us what will always be a part of the true worship of God: healing, serving, the goodness that makes well again.
And then there are the children who pay homage to Jesus as the Son of David and acclaim “Hosanna.” Jesus told his disciples that, to enter into the kingdom of God, they had to become like children again. He himself, who embraces the whole world, made himself little to come to us, to direct us toward God. To recognize God we must abandon the pride that blinds us, that wants to drive us far away from God, as if God were our competitor. To meet God it is necessary to become capable of seeing with the heart. We must learn to see with a young heart that is not hindered by prejudices and blinded by interests. Thus, in the little ones who with a similar free and open heart recognize him, the Church has seen the image of the believers of every century, her own image.
Dear friends, in this hour we associate ourselves with the procession of the young people of that time — a procession that passes through the whole of history. Together with the young people of the whole world let us go to meet Jesus. Let us allow him to guide us to God, to learn from God himself how to be men. With him we thank God, because with Jesus, the Son of David, he has given us a place of peace and reconciliation that embraces the whole world. Let us pray to him that we too become with him and beginning from him messengers of his peace, so that in us and around us his kingdom will grow.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]