THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT – March 04, 2018

A reading from the Book of Exodus 20:1-71
A reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians 1:22-25
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 2:13-25

Dear Reader,

In Jesus’s time, it was not uncommon for the lawyers to sit around and argue about which commandment in The Law was the most important.  There was a lot to argue about since what had begun as the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, had morphed into 613 laws in the Torah.  Practically every possible violation via human thought, emotion, or action was covered.  It is one thing to know the law; it is another to embrace it and deem fidelity to it to be the sign of justification that earns favor from the Lord.  The Law can be embraced and so be liberating.  How, you ask?  It all depends on attitude.

The Israelites gloried in the Law as a sign of their being God’s chosen people.  Abiding by the Decalogue would give evidence to the Gentiles that no other people lived in such intimacy with their gods as the Jews did with YHWH.  Theirs is a jealous God who wants a singular place in the people’s devotion.  No other gods, no idols are allowed.  One day of every week, the people are to rest in God and dedicate the day to God.  That dedicated day is the Sabbath.  Dedication makes it a holy day.

There is more to the Decalogue than what governs our relationship with God.  Seven Commandments dictate how the people are to treat each other.  Primacy of concern is given to parents and the honor and respect due to them.  Then there will be no killing, no adultery, no stealing, no falsely accusing a neighbor, nor coveting of house, or wife, or neighbor’s property.  There you have it.  In a nutshell, so to speak.  And there is the problem.  The Decalogue gives us the minimum, the least that is expected.  Alas, so many possibilities are not covered.  What about the minutiae?

Don’t you wonder if scrupulosity plaid a hand in the development of the other 603 laws?  The scrupulous one sees sin everywhere and sees self always sinning.  The word scruple in root means a small sharp stone.  Imagine one in your shoe and you know how the scrupulous conscience works.  Every eventuality must be covered when one does not trust the ability of conscience to decide whether to act or not.  What about this is a constant refrain.  Make the Law an end in itself and it becomes a millstone around the neck, something that imprisons rather than liberates.

That kind of paranoia gives rise to the question: Which is the greatest, or most important of the laws?  Those who wanted to trap him in error questioned Jesus about his opinion.  His answer amazed as Jesus turned the question back on the questioners.  Hear, O Israel!  The Lord our God is Lord alone!  Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Love.  If you love, the minimum is cast out.  Read the Decalogue with that filter, each of the Ten Commandments becomes a love directive.  Hear the difference?  But demanding can’t be the right word since, as the song say, Love isn’t love until you give it away.  Love is freely given and does not look for a return.

That is what St. Paul says in his first Letter to the Church in Corinth in response to the Corinthians’ wondering about the possibility of living this Christian faith.  What is it all about?  Why should they change their ways?  Some of the Jews challenged Jesus for signs and were never satisfied.  The Greeks, living more in their heads, wanted an explanation that made sense.  Paul says: We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (Greeks), but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Power, majesty, exaltation, and all other grandiosities traditionally understood and associated with God must be abandoned as we come to recognize God born in flesh, the one who died for us on the cross, the embodiment of God’s love that sets the standards for all who follow Christ.  It is all about love.

Do you recognize this theme in what Pope Francis continually urges the Church to see?  In imitation of Christ who poured himself out in love, this is a servant Church that gives to the poor primacy of place, a servant church whose leadership shepherds in the midst of the sheep, not over them.  This Church welcomes all and proclaims God’s love for all.  That is not an easy proclamation to hear if you are expecting power to come to you in your role in the Church.

In the Gospel for this Third Sunday of Lent, we find ourselves at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, just after the miracle at the marriage feast at Cana as Jesus enters the Temple area.  So begins John’s telling of the cleansing of the Temple, the sign that is related in all four Gospels.  We see Jesus in a rage, wielding a whip, albeit, his belt, upending the tables of the moneychangers, and releasing the doves and other animals for sacrifice.  What offends him?  The moneychangers were necessary if the Jews were to carry out the prescriptions regarding sacrifice.  Roman coins couldn’t be used because they had Caesar’s image on them.  The animals had to be purchased.  The implication seems to be that the laws governing Temple worship had become ends in themselves and, perhaps, the moneychangers, rather than engaging in a holy work, were dishonest in their dealings, charging too much, weighing the scales.  How can what is happening in the Temple area be construed as signs of God’s desired relationship with the people, and the people’s acceptance of that relationship?  Take these (doves) out of here and stop making my Father’s house a market place.

Two important ideas follow.  First, when Jesus is asked for a sign to justify what he has just done, he says: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.  Those listening took him literally and scoffed because the Temple had been under construction for 40 years and was not complete yet.  Three days from destruction to reconstruction?  How could that be?  But Jesus was talking about his journey that would seem to end with his crucifixion (destruction of his body) but actually would culminate in his resurrection.  Even the disciples who were with Jesus at the time could not have understood what he was saying then.  It was only afterwards, when people announced that the Lord is risen did they remember what he had said and come to believe the Scripture and his word.

Second, notice that some people began to follow Jesus because of the signs.  They are the ones who stand in awe and experience the thrill and wonder of the moment, those with incipient and untried faith.  Alas, it does not last if faith does not go deeper and rest in Christ alone.  It is not a question of wondering what I am going to get out of this.  It is a question of wondering if I can love the way Christ does, if I can let the Spirit lead.

So we continue on this Lenten journey, driven into the desert by the Spirit to be with Jesus and make the comparison.  We fast because there may be a lot of which we must let go.  Sin.  Selfishness.  Self-absorption.  We pray so that we can be open to God’s love and to the Spirit’s ongoing transformation.  God is not finished with us yet.  Ad we give alms, a sign of our desire to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.  Isn’t that what celebrating Eucharist is about?  Our transformation into the Body of Christ and our being sent in a renewed sense of thanksgiving to be bread broken and cup poured out, compelled by the call to love as we are loved.

As I write this, I am aware of the pain that has devastated many, the school massacre in Florida.  The event emerges as a sign of the divisions in our society and the violence that is unleashed daily.  The number of school shootings is deplorable, but so are the cries of those who feel devalued, those suffering the after-effects of harassment and abuse, the #Metoos, and the Black Lives Matter.  Then there are the wars and the catastrophic suffers of innocent men, women and children.

It has always been true, but it seems especially true today.  What the world needs now is love.  The disciples must live the love Christ’s Gospel proclaims.  Love that is expressed in the pouring out of self in service in behalf of the little ones, a love that decries power and self aggrandizement, this love can heal the divisions as together we come to recognize and accept that we are all one family of God.

Don’t worry if you conclude that there is still a lot to be done.  See yourself as a work in progress.  Then imagine what can happen if you let go and let God do it through you.  That is all God asks.




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