Third Sunday of Lent
The Book of Exodus is the source of the first biblical reading this weekend. This book is about the Hebrew people, enslaved and dreadfully mistreated in Egypt. Eventually, they escaped from Egypt and found their new homeland.
None of this good fortune, of escaping and of ultimate settlement in a land of their own, happened as a result of coincidence, luck or human strategy. Rather, God’s power led the Hebrews to a successful escape from Egypt. Moses, their leader in this endeavor, was God’s representative, chosen by Him for the task.
As the flight was underway and the people wandered across the bleak Sinai Peninsula in search of the land God had promised them, Moses received from God, and gave to the people, what long has been called the Ten Commandments.
By observing these commandments, the people fulfilled their obligations under the Covenant and also found the path to peace and justice in life given by God, a path that they themselves could not have devised.
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians supplies the second reading. For people living in the first century A.D., the proclamation and the deification of a convicted felon was hard to accept.
The Jews, suffering under Roman oppression and enduring so much, were not so apt to revere Roman law or to see profound wisdom and justice in the system established to enforce Roman law. Corinth’s Christians, however, many of whom had been pagans, regarded Roman jurisprudence to be supremely wise. Yet, a Roman court tried and convicted Jesus of high treason. The consequence of treason, again as set forth in Roman law, was death by crucifixion — for persons who were not citizens of Rome itself.
Paul asserts that Jesus, the convicted felon, is the key to salvation. He admits that this reality is a “stumbling block for the Jews, and an absurdity for the Gentiles. It was glorifying a condemned convict.
For its Gospel reading, the Church this weekend furnishes us with St. John’s Gospel. This reading recalls the time when Jesus, shortly before Passover, entered the temple precincts and found a brisk traffic underway in the things needed for ritual sacrifice.
Furious, as described by this Gospel, the Lord drove the merchants away. He then predicted that the temple would fall — in itself a virtual blasphemy — and then made the astonishing announcement that he would rebuild the colossal structure in three days.
It had taken many people many years to build the temple in the first place. Scholars and leaders later used this occasion to argue that Jesus was a blasphemer and a troublemaker.
The reading establishes Jesus as God’s voice, and God’s agent. As bystanders watched this happening unfold, they were reminded of God’s word in the Scriptures. The Lord’s actions reminded them of God.
They do not fully comprehend the Lord’s words and actions because they are humans; nothing less, but nothing more.
Lent reminds us of our humanity, but, everlastingly, it is hard for humans to admit their human limitations. Admitting our limitations frightens us and puts us in our place.
To compensate, we celebrate our human accomplishments. We congratulate ourselves, for example, on the brilliant insights into the workings of the human body. Then COVID-19 bluntly showed us that we are not as smart as we might wish to be.
We, despite our knowledge, are at the mercy of storms, earthquakes and evil decisions. In less critical moments, we are shortsighted and foolish.
God loves us. Amid our inadequacies, He forgives us and redeems us. He gives us Jesus, the Son of God, as our Savior. How do we attain this blessing? In the Ten Commandments, God gave us the pattern of our lives. Obey the Commandments.
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