March 4, 2018 — Third Sunday of Lent
There is no doubt we are in the midst of Lent based on the readings on this Third Sunday of Lent. From the Ten Commandments, which compose our First Reading from Exodus, to St. Paul’s discussion of the wisdom of God in the Second Reading, to Jesus’ actions at the Temple as reported in the Gospel of John, we are reminded of what Lent is truly all about.
Lent should be a time of reflection for us, about how we can improve in living our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ and as His disciples, but also about hope in God’s enduring promises of love and forgiveness. After all, God looks for a heart that is tender and is adaptable to God’s word. Lent is a time to take our spiritual journey a little deeper. It should not be about “beating up” on ourselves, but about being honest and asking God to forgive us and help us.
The First Reading from Exodus presents the Ten Commandments as God handed them down to us. In our secular-based society, the idea of a God-based moral code seems to have become less popular. There is a tendency that a moral code should be based upon each individual’s inner sense of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad, but not on a standard set by God.
We need God to morally instruct and guide us. Though these principles resonate with the human conscience (both individually and collectively), they are certainly not the only influence upon our thinking and behavior. We need to know that there is a God in heaven who expects certain moral behavior and that there are consequences from obeying or disobeying these commands. It is important for us to note the order of the Commandments. In truth one could give an entire homily on each of the Commandments, but the main thing is to take note that the first four Commandments have to do with our attitudes toward God, and our conduct in relationship to God. The last six have to do with how we relate to and conduct ourselves toward one another.
The portion of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians which is our Second Reading is not very lengthy. As is often the case nonetheless, it is filled with a wisdom and understanding of its own. To the Jewish people the idea of a Messiah translated into power, splendor, and triumph. To them “crucified” meant weakness, defeat, and humiliation. This is what St. Paul preaches throughout his writings.
A story is told of a church which inscribed the following over their entrance: “We preach Christ crucified.” However, as time passed, they seemed to lose their passion for the Lord. Ivy began to grow over the entranceway covering part of the message. It then read “We preach Christ.” After awhile it read only “We preach.” Finally it said simply “We.” Today many churches have become mere social gatherings which are not about God and certainly not about Christ crucified. Our faith is not about “we” but about God. Lent is a time for us to appreciate that and embrace the fact that as Catholics we are blessed with the foundations and the meanings of our faith. As Paul says in today’s reading, “…the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
We have indicated previously how the Gospel of John is quite different from the other three Gospels (the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). John focuses on the final days of Christ. He gives us fewer stories, but what he does offer is rich in detail. Scholars, as is often the case, do not agree on when the story of Jesus’ cleansing the temple actually occurred. It appears early in John’s Gospel, evidently at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, but just prior to his Crucifixion in the synoptic gospels.
This particular passage from the Gospel of John is often called “the cleansing of the temple.” Cleansing was part of the Passover celebration, just as it is part of our Lenten journeys. What we do at this time needs to result in a cleansing of our consciences and our souls. What we do now and what we commit to doing now should be part of this cleansing process. That includes conversion — changing our lives if necessary, and certainly participating in confession, the sacrament of reconciliation.