Sunday, March 3, 2024

Reflection-Third Sunday of Lent Year B

A reflection on the readings for the third Sunday of Lent (Cycle B) in the Catholic Church.

Readings (Year B):

- Exodus 20:1 – 17 (or shorter form, Exodus 20:1-3,7-8,12-17): Moses is given the Ten Commandments.

- Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 11: A prayer of praise to God who gives us His commandments.

- 1 Corinthians 1:22 – 25: Paul preaches Christ crucified to the Corinthians.

- John 2:13 – 25: Jesus drives out the moneychangers from the Temple and says that He will destroy the temple and raise it up again.

Today's readings deal with the law, the temple, and respect for God.

In the first reading, we read the Commandments God gives to Moses.  We cannot serve other gods, or take God's name in vain; we must keep the sabbath, respect our parents, not kill, and not fall into adultery; we cannot steal, cannot slander others nor desire other people's goods or their spouses.  These laws pin down fallen human nature in great detail. 

We often claim to believe in God, yet worship other things. Money and power are two of the most common "gods" that have plagued humanity (Matthew 6:21Ecclesiastes 5:10Psalm 37:16-17Hebrews 13:51 Timothy 6:10).  Today we see people sleep on the street just to purchase a phone, sneakers, or tickets to a show, sporting events, or concert.  They leave behind families, and lovers set aside their own well-being for these meaningless material things.  Moreover, the first commandment is often used by our separated brethren against our use of images and statues.  The "idols carved in the shape of anything in the sky above" etc are used to attack our use of images of angels and saints.  This is a very bad interpretation of the text.  

This text must be read in context.  The images in the sky, earth, and under the earth are about the idols used in ancient Egypt. Birds, cats, and alligators were often worshiped as representations of Egypt's gods.  We know God is not speaking of angels or saints here because 5 chapters later in Exodus we read how God commands that the Ark of the Covenant be made with two cherubs on top. Cherubs are angelic creatures that are "in the sky."  Did God contradict Himself? No! The attack on Catholic use of images is silly indeed.  If we think about it, Protestants collect money.  Money has images of white males we call presidents.  These white males are creatures found on earth or who used to live on earth.  If we interpret the text like some Protestants do, then they are guilty of possessing idols when they collect money.  Let us respect God's Word and not misinterpret it!  Furthermore, many of us take God's name in vain and treat God as if He were just another adjective we can use to describe something or make a statement of exclamation.  God's name must always be respected, as well as, the names of all things holy.  

We sometimes work on Sunday and do not respect that this day is the day the Lord rose from the dead and started the new creation. Today so many young people and older folks disrespect their parents.  Killing today is almost a daily occurrence and is being done in God's name around the world. There is no respect for life.  Not even the unborn are safe.  The culture of today encourages infidelity. We are told to "hook up," and "mess around" to have fun and explore. Marriages are decreasing with nearly half of them ending in divorce.  Stealing is done in every facet of life.  The poor steal from the poor, the rich from the rich, the rich from the poor, and vice versa.  Slander is rampant around the world. Movies, books, articles, and other publications encourage bullying others in the name of free speech. The act of bringing down reputations is now part of a popular television show that stalks actors and others.  We are never happy with what we have and want more.

The Commandments capture well the fallen psychological state of all human beings.  It is no wonder why they are the basis for secular law.  Many courthouses today, including the Supreme Court has the image of the Commandments. Laws are necessary for life.  Without laws, there would be chaos.  Our own universe operates on laws (Job 38:33).  Laws, in general, serve to keep peace and harmony, not to oppress.  The laws of physics allow us to exist in this universe. God's laws keep us focused on loving Him and our neighbor.  This is why Jesus summed them up in two Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).  The Psalm for today brings to mind this.

In the responsorial Psalm, we recall how God's words are what give life.  In the book of Genesis, God creates the world with His word (Genesis 1). It is God's word that gives us life and sustains it (Matthew 4:4).  In the Commandments, we have the law of God which is indeed perfect.  As I stated before, it encompasses fallen human nature and our behavior perfectly. However, we must be careful not to turn the Commandments into a strict totalitarian system.  This will bring about judgment and abuse of others. The Commandments must bring us to love God and our neighbor.  The law is fulfilled in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).

In the second reading, St. Paul tells us of how things were at the time. The Jews were looking for signs, miracles, and other supernatural events which they were told about by their ancestors. Meanwhile, the Greeks were looking for wisdom via philosophy. Socrates, Plato, and the other Greek philosophers thought about life and the world seeking answers, only to bring about more questions. This is because they did not seek the one who brings the signs and the one who is truth and wisdom: Jesus (John 10:1). Philosophers like Nietzsche went mad thinking about what existence means and its purpose. All he had to do was focus on Jesus Christ who was a God that was dead but rose again conquering sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Today academics and others think they have solved the universe with their methodologies and whatnot. They criticize certain aspects of creation and dismiss God as impossible or foolish. Yet when we study the wonders of nature, what we think are imperfections or mistakes are actually works of a genius who is so powerful that He can make the stupid work with the intelligent and the illogical with the logical. The foolishness we assume in God and His creation is actually wiser than we think. Many atheists today cite the appendix as proof that no intelligent designer was involved. They dismiss the appendage as a leftover of evolution that serves no purpose. However, this is not true. The appendix aids our immune system as a backup which exposes white blood cells to antigens. This suppresses humoral antibodies which are destructive (Martin, L 1999).  So this little appendage which is often used to call God foolish actually shows His wisdom.

In today's Gospel, we read about how Jesus overturned the tables of the merchants and money changers in the Temple at Jerusalem. To understand the relevance of Jesus' actions, we must learn more about the activities that were going on in the temple area. Worship at the Temple included animal sacrifice, and merchants sold animals to worshipers. Moneychangers exchanged Roman coins (which bore the image of the Roman emperor) for temple coins needed to pay the temple tax.

Jesus' action at the Temple is recorded in all four Gospels and is often understood to be among the events that led to His arrest and Crucifixion. The Gospel of John places this event much earlier in Jesus' public ministry than do the Synoptic Gospels. In John's Gospel, this event occurs after His first miracle at the wedding feast at Cana. We must read John's Gospel carefully, especially in its presentation of Jesus' relationship to Judaism. John reflects greater tension and animosity between Jesus and Jewish authorities than the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John was written last, and its narrative reflects the growing divide between the Jewish community and early Christians.

Reflecting upon the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), John recalls Jesus' cleansing of the Temple and uses that story to interpret this later event. John explains to his audience—an early Christian community—that temple worship would no longer be necessary because it was surpassed in Jesus' passion, death, and Resurrection. With greater frequency than other Evangelists, John intersperses post-Resurrection reflections of this Christian community in his narrative.

After clearing the Temple of merchants and moneychangers, John's Gospel tells us that people asked for a sign of Jesus' authority to do such an audacious act.

The takeaway from these readings is that even if we do not fully understand what God commands us to do, we can trust that all God does for us is for our benefit. May we always respect God's authority, for it is only by listening to God and following His commandments that peace can be brought to our shared household called Earth.

Remember that God calls each of us by name to a unique vocation—to become and receive mercy. We have the freedom to say yes to these daily vocations of mercy.

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