Third Sunday of Lent
The Book of Exodus is the source of the first biblical reading this weekend. In Hebrew history, the Exodus virtually was unsurpassed as an event of great significance, unless perhaps this distinction goes to creation itself. In the Exodus, the Hebrew people, enslaved and dreadfully mistreated in Egypt, escaped. Eventually, they found their new homeland.
None of this good fortune happened because of luck or human strategy. Rather, God’s power led the Hebrews to a successful escape from Egypt. Moses, their leader in this endeavor, was chosen by God for the task.
As the flight was underway, Moses received from God and then gave to the people what long has been called the Ten Commandments. These familiar commandments formed the essential requisites for the relationship between God and the Hebrew people. By observing these commandments, the people fulfill their obligations under the Covenant. It was as if the commandments were a legal contract, solemnly binding both parties.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians goes to the heart of the Christian message. Christianity preaches Christ. In this reading, Paul asserts that Jesus is the key to salvation. So, the Apostle declares, he preaches, “Christ crucified.” It is a “stumbling block for the Jews, and an absurdity for the Gentiles.” The Jews, suffering under Roman oppression and enduring so much, were inclined to regard Jesus as an imposter and blasphemer. Others, “gentiles,” would have seen Jesus as a convicted felon, found guilty by the jurisprudence of Rome that proclaimed its wisdom and perfect justice.
For its Gospel reading, the Church this weekend furnishes us with St. John’s Gospel.
This weekend’s reading is one of the most familiar sections of the New Testament. It recalls the moment when Jesus, shortly before Passover, entered the temple precincts and saw a brisk traffic in the things needed for ritual sacrifice. Furious, the Lord drove the merchants away.
He then hinted that the temple would fall, in itself a virtual blasphemy for many who witnessed this event, and then made the astonishing announcement that He would rebuild the colossal structure in three days, although it had taken many people many years to build the temple in the first place.
The Gospel reading sets the stage for Good Friday, when the accusers of Jesus would refer to the Lord’s prediction that the temple would fall, claiming that Jesus was a blasphemer and a troublemaker. The Lord’s prediction regarding the rebuilding of the temple in three days looked ahead to the Resurrection.
The reading establishes Jesus as God’s voice and God’s agent. In particular, He is outdone at the exploitation of religious sincerity. Good people followed their traditions in praising God. The merchants used this sincerity for their own commercial benefit.
The people who earnestly wished to honor God were being used. They were innocent prey for the selfish greed of the money-changers.
This reading also reveals much about the bystanders. Many failed fully to grasp the Lord’s identity. Others followed Him.
Lent reminds us of our humanity. Despite all the differences in lifestyles and scientific knowledge, nothing essentially makes us different from the people who were contemporaries of Jesus. We, as were they, are humans, subject to human limitations.
Being human has its bright side. We congratulate ourselves, for example, on the brilliant design of spaceships, but, on the dark side, like the accusers of Jesus, we fail fully to see reality.
We have witnessed the 2018 Olympics. But no glory, no human success, dismisses the fact of human limitation.
Limited by our nature, we still sin. Lenten discipline calls us more sharply to focus, better to see sin in its reality.
God never deserts us, even in our folly. God gave us Jesus, our Savior and example. He alone is our sure model.
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