LOOK UP IN FAITH AND HEAR THE VOICE OF THE LORD
Readings: 1st- Gen. 15:5-12. 17-18; 2nd- Phil. 3:17-4:1; Gospel- Lk. 9:28b-36
Today, we conduct the 2019 Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries which is the reason why this homily will be a short one. The local church in the archdiocese of Baltimore appeals to us to express our faith by donating to the course of the ministries in both our parish and in the archdiocese. She invites us to support the mission which the church represents. The Church remains the voice of God that we hear in our time. She continues to speak to us.
In the first reading, God enters a covenant with Abram. He invites Abram to “Look up at the sky and count the stars” to be able to see the glory of God. Abram responds to God’s invitation and puts his faith in the Lord. The covenant yields fruits for Abram, and in the end, God blesses him with the promises He has made, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Gen. 15:7).
The gospel narrates the transfiguration of Jesus. He takes the three disciples, Peter, John, and James to the top of the mountain to pray. At the mountain, the Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus. Peter and his companions fall asleep as they usually do, but eventually they become fully awake by the glory of the Lord. The experience of the transforming presence of Jesus brings both the old and the new back to life- Moses and Elijah are united with the disciples in the Jesus who is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Peter and the disciples become fully awake. Peter is taken over by this glorious presence and exclaims, “Master, it is good be to be here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Scripture informs us that “Peter did not know what he was saying.” That means, he is in some form of ecstasy, a trance, and a joy brought about by the Lord. Peter wants to remain there forever.
One important factor in the transfiguration episode is the voice of the Father that speaks from the cloud. The voice reminds us of the identity and mission of Jesus, “This is my chosen Son.” The voice invites us to action when it says, “listen to him.” This is the same voice that spoke at the baptism of Jesus announcing his mission; “After Jesus had been baptized, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17). The Voice of the Father invites us to listen to Jesus just as God invited Abram into the covenant relationship in the Old Testament.
Is it possible that the voice of God still speaks to us today? And do we still hear this voice? Where can we hear the voice of God, and how? Saint Paul tells us that we can still hear the voice of God in the stubbornness of today’s world. We are all aware that there is a lot of distractions going on around us. Lots of noise and confusion. There is noise in politics, noise in the media, and noise in our daily human relationships. Those who want to distract us from hearing this voice are pushing strongly, coming up with teachings that do nothing other than oppose the teachings of Christ and his Church. Most of these teachings condemn the Cross of Christ. They make God look like a wicked father who would hand his son over to be crucified. They paint the cross in a negative way. They fail to recognize the ultimate price of our salvation which Jesus paid on the Cross. Paul describes such people as “enemies of the cross of Christ” whose theology relies only on the stomach. Paul tells us not to listen to them. They glory in shameful things and have their minds fixed on earthly glories.
And yes, God still speaks to us. He speaks to us in silence. He invites us to go to the mountain of prayer with him. He invites us to look up and see him. He wants us to travel with him in faith like Abram. It is hard to feel God if we cannot detach from the noisiness of material world. We act like Peter, John, and James, who fall asleep at the most crucial time. We simply fall back into our old lifestyles if we cannot move to the mountain to be with the Lord. Yet he does not abandon us.
I was listening to the story of this young lady who went shopping in one of the nearby grocery stores. As she walked around searching out the items on her shopping list, she suddenly pushed down a stack of glasses (cups) on the shelf. These glasses smashed the floor and broke. The lady became scared and bent down to pick them. Immediately, one of the store attendants rushed at the scene and asked the lady not to worry. The young lady started crying and begged that she was sorry. The store attendant insisted that she shouldn’t worry. Then the lady asked to know how much the broken glasses cost, so she could pay for the damage. The attendant said to her, “Don’t worry, we got you covered. The insurance already paid for it.” The lady couldn’t believe it. That’s what happens to us, God got us covered in Christ Jesus.
God got Abram covered in the first reading of today. God took up his case and paid off his worries. Despite his old age, God fulfilled his promise of giving him numerous descendants as promised. This is also what happened to Peter and his colleagues at the transfiguration encounter. Despite their tiredness and weakness, Jesus took them into his glory which made Peter exclaim, “It is good to be here.”
God has paid off our iniquities and covered up our shame. All he needs from us is to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives and to listen to him. God wants you to “look up” in faith. God wants you to look up to the cross. God wants you to step aside from the noise and get closer to him. God invites you to use this Lent to travel with him. The world may be noisy, but you can step aside. Step aside from sin. Step aside from hatred. Step aside from gossip. Step aside from lies. Step aside from laziness. Step aside from betrayal. Step aside from pornography and impurity. Step aside from anger. Step aside from drinking and from getting drunk. Step aside from negative feelings of fear and anxiety. Step up to the Lord. Then you will hear his voice speak to you, “This is my beloved Son.” God can change your lowly body to conform with his glorified body. Just step aside and step up. Listen to the Church and listen to Christ. Stop looking down. God has got you fully covered.
Don’t run away, ask for God’s grace!
Readings: 1st- Deut. 26:4-10; 2nd- Rom. 10:8=13; Gospel- Lk. 4:1-13
The Israelites declare their belief in God for saving them. They profess their faith in words and action. Deuteronomy tells us about God’s saving justice and love which makes the Hebrew people declare their faith. God grants them freedom from Egyptian forces, and restores the land flowing with milk and honey. This is met with the credal profession: “My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation great, strong, and numerous. When the Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression” (Deut. 26:5-7). The important clause in the life of the Israelites is, “the Lord, the God of our fathers.” This continually defined their relationship with God; a friendship of trust and confidence. God is their God because he stood behind their fathers in faithfulness to his commandments. Hence, the reading declares, “I have now brought you the first fruits of the product of the soil which you, O Lord, have given me. And having set them before the Lord, your God, you shall bow down in his presence.”
This set the tone for the gospel which presents to us the temptations of Jesus by the devil. As soon as Jesus stepped out of the Jordan after his baptism, the devil appeared. Jesus is equipped by the Holy Spirit after his forty days’ desert experience. Don’t forget that Jesus is human, even though He is above all, God. His temptation is real, so also his victory over Satan and his styles.
He was hungry. He would love fame and honor. He would love power. These are the very packages that the devil presents before him. You are hungry, and you are the Son of God. Turn stones into loaves. Perhaps, you will eat, and your followers will also know through it that you have miraculous powers. Jesus responds by letting the devil know that there is a greater food than the physical bread which is his love for the Father. The devil thinks that Jesus will succumb to the allurement of material wealth and fame since he doesn’t succumb to performing magic; “I shall give you all this power and glory…, if you worship me.” Jesus reminds the devil of the superiority of God’s commandment, “Thou shall worship the Lord thy God, Him alone shall you serve.” What a disappointment! The devil thinks this way; if the physical things don’t work, then the spiritual may do the magic. The devil takes Jesus to a high cliff. He recounts the Psalms written about Jesus himself, “He will command his angels concerning you, and with their hands they will support you lest you strike your foot against a stone.” It’s the game of flattering Jesus into greatness. Jesus makes it clear that his glory will come from being lifted up through the Cross and not by mere words of empty praises or promises. Then the devil “departed from him for a time” (Lk. 4:13), just for a time. How smart Mr. Devil could be!
Paul reminds us of the importance of professing our faith with our mouths and believing strongly in our hearts. The credal expression puts us in the direction of hope which Christ’s resurrection offers. We are made victorious through the death and resurrection of Christ. We are not immune from temptation. We are not removed from it either. Right from the time of Adam and Eve, temptation became part of the history of humanity. We belong to the tradition of temptation through Adam, carrying in our bodies, human weakness and brokenness. Adam and Eve fail. They succumbed to temptation. They lost their best and innocent friendship ever. Jesus came, experienced temptation, stood firm, and restored human body to innocence through his cross and resurrection. He cherished his friendship with the Father. As human, Jesus wasn’t immune to temptation either. But his love for God and his desire to live in constant friendship with his Father was key to his victory over temptation. For that reason, Saint Paul urges us, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11). On the contrary, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (10:13).
Think about Peter for a second. A clear image of the importance of calling on the name of the Lord is Peter’s experience walking on the water. Walking on the water was like moving on a slippery slope, a dangerous move for Peter. And the Bible tells us, “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord save me!”” (Matt. 14:30). I usually tell my friends to use this mantra each time, they feel overwhelmed, to say it aloud in their head and with their mouth, “Lord, save me!” It is real.
What is not real is to imagine that temptation would disappear or to run away from it. We pray in the Lord’s prayer, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from all evil.” The Lord will deliver us from evil but won’t put us away from it. The devil goes away only “for a time.” It is by God’s grace, by his power that we overcome.
Sometime, this lady felt strong affection for her male colleague at work. This male colleague also felt similar passion for her, but both wanted to keep their friendship holy and secure. This lady received a message from her boss and had to deliver same to her attractive male colleague. She got to his door and tried to slide the message quietly under the door to avoid seeing him. She slid the letter through the door while this guy was sitting right on his desk. The guy quickly stood up to pick his mail, opened the door, and behold his female colleague squatting beneath his door. He was surprised and asked her why she never knocked to drop his mail for him since he was in. Her response was, “I knew you were in, but I wanted to avoid you.” The question here is, whether that was the best way to avoid him or whether they could struggle to overcome their passion and work in a healthier way.
The truth is that temptation places a bargain for us with what is most precious in our lives. It offers seductive alternatives to true love- food, power, fame, glory. That’s what happened to Adam and Eve. Same happened to Jesus. Adam and Eve succumbed but Jesus stood firm. The Adam in us might want to succumb but the Jesus in us is stronger. Temptations come to us at different moments- family, friendship, work, academics, property, spirituality, sex, and health. Temptations can be overcome by faith in Christ Jesus. Gratitude to God and adoration are what God wants from us. Jesus tells the devil, “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve” (Lk. 4:8). And the book of Deuteronomy says, “you shall bow down in his presence” (26:10). Always remember that God is the source of everything about you. He has made you for his glory, so, all glory belongs to him. He keeps watch over you once you keep dwelling in the shelter of his wings. When you feel that pinch of trials, struggles, and temptation, call out to him like Peter, “Lord, save me!” He will not let you be put to shame.
“I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE”: THE JOY OF SEEING JESUS
Readings: 1st- Jer. 31: 31-34; 2nd- Heb. 5: 7-9; Gospel- Jn. 12: 20-33
Let’s start our reflection today with looking at the Jesus’ hour, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn.12:23). It is the hour of fulfilment of His mission. We see in today’s gospel Jesus’ use of the metaphor of “the grain of wheat” where Jesus explains the meaning of his mission; “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit”. The image here is that of his death and resurrection. If we take our minds back to the beginning of his mission, Jesus gives us a glimpse of this hour from the beginning. At the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, his mother approached him with a request for the couple, “They have no wine”. To that request, Jesus responded, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come” (Jn. 2:3-4). Then, Jesus’ hour hadn’t come because he was yet to undertake the journey of the Cross. Today, he tells us that his hour has come.
Jesus uses that opportunity to give a picture of his imminent death. He is that “grain of wheat” grounded for our sake, the “grain of wheat” that must die to germinate eternal life for his people. Last Sunday, he told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn.3:14). He explains the meaning of his hour. Jesus is troubled like any other human being would, in the certainty of his death. He calls on his Father, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”
As human being, Jesus feels pains. He laments, cries, experiences sorrows like us. The Hebrew author describes him in the flesh, “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). But Jesus must go through this hour. It is the hour of his glory. The Father testifies by the voice from heaven. The Father glorifies the Son through suffering. That glory is for our sake, that we may be saved. So, Jesus explains that the voice from heaven is for our sake. It is the voice reminding us of God’s love for us in Christ. It is the voice confirming the mission of the suffering servant. It is the voice that echoed at baptism, “This is my beloved Son”. It is the voice sealing the “hour” when everything is consummated in his Son. It is the voice endearing us to the glory of the Cross, thus, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn. 12:32).
The first reading draws our attention to the new covenant that God is making with his people. The prophet Jeremiah uncharacteristically, presents a “book of consolation” -God’s healing, hope and newness. God reassures the people of Israel, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). The new covenant is no longer a covenant written on tablets of stone but now engraved in our hearts. It is a covenant of engagement with God in a most intimate way. It is a covenant of love. That is what Jesus does. He draws us into God’s covenant through the Cross.
To see Jesus, we must be drawn into His covenant. The Greeks (gentiles) search for Jesus. The disciples lead them to him. The Jews look for him even though some plan to kill him. In the Gospel, “Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you” (Mk. 1:36-37). There is a great joy in seeing Jesus. That joy is manifested in our encounter with him in the Blessed Eucharist.
In today’s gospel, the Greeks come to receive the Holy Communion. They seem not to understand fully what it means, and they seek Philip to help them. Philip takes them through the doctrine of the sacrament of the Eucharist, presents them to Andrew. Then Andrew and Philip, together take them to Jesus. This demonstrates the sanctity which we should give the Blessed Eucharist, which is our place of encounter with Christ. The Blessed Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, crucified for our sake. It is in the Eucharist that Christ draws everyone to himself. It is the reenactment of the sacrifice on the Cross. Christ says, “When I am lifted up, I’ll draw everyone to myself”. He is lifted on the Cross, crucified at Calvary. At Mass, the priest lifts the species of bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are invited to see Jesus as He really is in the Blessed Eucharist.
Let me use this opportunity to communicate that the Blessed Eucharist cannot be blessed outside of the Mass. I had someone who is a catholic come to me few days ago to ask that I bless the host for the Eucharist. This is the second time I am getting that request, hence the need to clarify. Once at a different time, while I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I had a non-Catholic chaplain who wanted to bless the host to give to a Catholic patient. I corrected him and instructed him that the host cannot be blessed by anyone who’s not a catholic priest. But it was more shocking to me to hear Catholics ask me to bless the host outside the Mass. Let’s know that the bread and wine changes into the Body and Blood of Christ only during the Consecration at Mass. The consecration begins with the invocation of the Holy Spirit. This is when the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine and asks God, “that they may become for us, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The priest uses the same words that Christ used at the Last Supper, and invites the people to “Take and eat… Take and drink”. It is a memory of Christ’s death and resurrection as he invites us, “Do this in memory of me”. The Blessed Eucharist is only consecrated at Mass. Christ is lifted in his Body and Blood. We watch him, encounter him, and are drawn to him for our salvation.
There’s a great joy in seeing Christ and in encountering him in the Blessed Eucharist. The Greeks say to Philip, “Sir, we will like to see Jesus”, because they recognize that He is the life of the world. Aren’t we privileged to see him ourselves and to consume him in the Blessed Eucharist? Are we eager to see him? And Christ tells us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain”. Fr. Tony Adawu wrote an article in the Winter edition of the Family Apostolate Magazine titled, “We are a Consecrated and Eucharistic People”. He explained the metaphor of the grain of wheat this way: “We receive an invitation to become what we eat and what we drink. Since one piece of grain does not make bread and one fruit does not make wine, instead multiple grains and grapes do, and they do so by being ground together. In a sense then, our consecration as individuals is not complete without the consecration of the whole Body of Christ. Like Christ, each grain and grape must fall to the ground of the Altar of the Cross, so that we can be lifted up to draw all people into communion with God (cf. Jn. 12:24, 32). That’s the joy of seeing Christ; “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33).
THE PARADOX OF THE CROSS: "FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON"
Readings: 1st- 2 Chr. 36:14-16, 19-23; 2nd- Eph. 2:4-10; Gospel- John 3: 14-21
John the evangelist vividly demonstrates Christ’s mission in his gospel; a mission to die for our sake. One of those passages is John Chapter 3 part of which we read in today’s gospel. Christ encounters Nicodemus and explains to him what this mission is all about; “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…” The Son of man must be lifted up. The story of the bronze serpent reminds us of the healing granted to the Israelites by God. As the Israelites were leaving the land of Egypt, they lost patience with God and began to complain against God and Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the desert? For there is neither food nor water here; we are sick of this meagre diet” (Num. 21: 4-5). This angered God. He sent fiery serpents which bit the people causing death to many. The people appealed to Moses for pardon and he pleaded with God on their behalf. God said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and raise it as a standard. Anyone who is bitten and looks at it will survive” (Num. 21: 8). That was how the Israelites escaped the threats of death and sin. The bronze serpent lifted up on the pole became for the Israelites a sign of God’s healing.
Jesus reminds Nicodemus that the Son of Man would also be a sign of healing to the world. It is interesting to note the difference between the healing brought by the bronze serpent in the desert and the healing brought by Christ. The serpent brought only physical healing to the people while Jesus brings healing that is eternal life. Jesus brings spiritual healing above all.
When Jesus says, “…the Son of Man must be lifted up”, he simply focuses our attention on God’s love for humanity. We are bitten by the serpent of sin and bruised by iniquity. That is what we see in the first reading. The book of Chronicles talks about man’s infidelity exhibited by the leaders and priests in the Old Testament. They mess up God’s temple. They resort to idol worship. They abandon the commandments. They reject God’s love. The people go astray and repeatedly refuse to follow the way of the Lord. They mock God’s messengers. They despise God’s warnings. They scoff the prophets. All take to their own human aggrandizement. They merit for themselves punishment and the serpent bites them as they are taken into exile in Babylon. Again, they cry out and God shows them love. As prophesied by the Jeremiah, God inspires Cyrus, the King of Persia to free the people and have them return to Jerusalem.
It is clear that God’s love overshadows our human sins and brokenness. God wants to save us. He doesn’t relent. John says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (3:16). This is one of the most popular verses in the bible. It tells us of the relationship between God and man, how God, “having loved those who were his own in the world, loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). God’s love is so powerful, the reason why Jesus is lifted up on the Cross.
Exegetes use the Greek word hypsothenai to translate being “lifted up”. One could imagine how Nicodemus understands the words of Jesus. Already we see his banal interpretation at the first encounter when Jesus speaks to him about being “born again from above” (cf. Jn. 3:5). In this case, he must be thinking of Jesus being physically lifted up. What could that mean for Nicodemus? But Nicodemus is not alone in his thinking. When Jesus speaks to the Jews about the same thing, he repeats the same words that he says to Nicodemus, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself” (Jn.12:32). The Jews are confused. They answer him, “The Law has taught us that the Christ will remain forever. So how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?” (Jn. 12:34-35). However, Nicodemus isn’t completely wrong because Jesus would be physically lifted up like the bronze serpent. He would be crucified. He and would be hanging physically on the Cross, to die a shameful death.
The second meaning of hypsothenai is that the Cross will be a sign of exaltation at the end. The Cross is a manifestation of God’s glory, majesty, and victory. Jesus is King who conquers death and sin. He says to the Jews, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He” (Jn. 8:28). Jesus is the anointed Son of God whose death brought victory to mankind. Saint Paul acknowledges the victory of the Cross when he writes, “For this God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens,on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knees at the name of Jesus” (Phil. 2:9-10).
The last meaning of hypsothenai is seen in its effects in our lives. It pulls us into the relationship with Christ and with the Cross, “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned”. God’s will for us is to “be saved and reach the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). The Cross draws us to Jesus as the Sign of our salvation. Jesus is the light that has come into the world; in him we have light. Scripture says today, “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (Jn. 3:21). Jesus does not want darkness to overtake us. He reminds us, “The light will be with you only a little longer now. Go on your way while you have the light, or darkness will overtake you, and nobody who walks in the dark knows where he is going” (Jn. 12: 36).
The paradox of the cross is that it has become the sign of God’s love for us. Prior to Christ’s crucifixion, the cross is associated with shame and punishment. Through the Cross God demonstrates his richness in mercy, and that he loves us to the end. We are God’s “handiwork”. We belong to his plan of salvation. By his grace we live, the grace brought to us by Christ’s death on the Cross. Lent is the time to remind ourselves of the impact of God’s love, “the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). It is a time to remain constantly in God’s light. It is a time to embrace the Cross as a sign of strength over sin and darkness. Always remember how strong God’s love is for you. It is the love that is manifested in the Cross. Christ is lifted up for you so that you may be lifted up above human weakness, pain, suffering and failure. May his grace and mercy be with you. Amen.
“WE PROCLAIM CHRIST CRUCIFIED”
Readings: 1st- Ex. 20:1-17; 2nd- 1 Cor. 1:22-25; Gospel- John 2:13-25
Saint Paul makes it clear in the second reading of today that Christ’s crucifixion remains the greatest sign of all ages. The scandal of the Cross is that Jesus saved humanity through his death, what in the Old Testament (Deut. 21:23) was considered shameful, becomes the means of our salvation. What appears as foolishness from the human perspective becomes in reality the wisdom of God; what seems like weakness in the sight of man becomes indeed the manifestation of God’s strength and power; “We proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23).
The first reading reminds us of the ten commandments. God gives the commandments to the Israelites as the sign of God’s relationship with his people. God delivered the commandments to Israel as a sign of his love for his people. He says, “I, the Lord, am your God”. God enters into a covenant relationship with his chosen ones. This relationship is manifested in the establishment of divine instructions which God’s people must follow. The commandments are not just about consequences that will fall on the people if they fail to obey the Law, rather they reflect more of God’s personal identity: He is the God who loves us as His own.
There are two aspects of the commandments: First part expresses the relationship between God and his people. Absolute fidelity to God is seen as the target of the first three commandments: “You shall not have any other gods besides me. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:1-11). God wants us to commit to him. He wants us to recognize his absolute power, to serve him, worship him and love him above all else. Worshipping God means understanding that he is there for us always. It means respecting him and keeping everything about him in reverence. We need to evaluate our attitude towards God, towards the use of God’s name and towards the holy spaces of worship dedicated to him. Do we need to improve on our manner of speaking about God? How many times do we use God’s name to curse others?
In the second part, God commands us to recognize the bond of love among our fellow human beings. He invites us to honor our parents. Honoring our father and mother is the only commandment with a promise. God says, “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord your God is giving you”. It is also the commandment that demands action in the second part of the division. Others (the fifth commandment through to the tenth) command refrain. They are mostly about the things we should not do: to refrain from being hurtful and hateful to others such as killing, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and desiring/coveting people’s properties and wives. The commandments have not changed, and will not change. They originate from the nature of God who himself is the same always.
In the gospel, we read about those buying and selling oxen, sheep, and doves as well as the money changers in the temple. Christ is mad at such abuse of the holy place. He is upset and makes a whip for them. He throws away their goods and challenges them; “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace”. This argument leads to another important revelation about his mission. The Jews seek to know what sign Christ can show by calling the temple his “Father’s house”. Jesus responds, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:20). That sounds like one of those insults in their ears. Each time the Jews request for a sign from Jesus, he confuses and infuriates them. For example, when he is teaching about what they must do to carry out God’s work, they ask him, “What sign will you yourself do, the sight of which will make us believe in you? Jesus uses the moment to teach them about the Blessed Eucharist, about his body and blood being food and drink for those who receive it, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who comes to me will ever thirst” (Jn. 6:30-36). The Jews fail to understand him.
In today’s gospel, the Jews again ask him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”. Jesus’ use of the temple is paradoxical, but to them it’s senseless. He sounds foolish, and they consider themselves wise. They have labored to build the temple for forty-six years, and here he is telling them that he will build it up in just three days. That doesn’t make sense. How can he single-handedly build the temple in three days? That’s what human wisdom thinks. However, God’s wisdom looks beyond the physical things to the spiritual. In Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we read, “Do you not realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you and whom you received from God?” (6:19-20). Christ says to the Jews today, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”. Scripture informs us that Christ “was speaking about the temple of his body”. Respecting the temple that is Christ’s body and blood is what God requires of us in the commandment; “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have any other God but me”.
The events of the gospel remind us of the respect we owe to God. We must keep God’s temple holy. Let me say this. Few days ago, someone went into the small chapel at the Parish Center, opened the tabernacle and messed around with the Blessed Eucharist. The individual tossed pieces of the consecrated host all over the place. We suspect that might have been a kid. But the question I ask is whether the parents of that kid didn’t know or see what damage that kid did. That’s desecrating the Body of Christ. That’s a great sin. And no one reported the matter until we saw it. That individual walked away thinking that no one saw him/her. That’s sad and unfortunate. Christ is being constantly crucified by us in different ways. Each time we disrespect the Blessed Sacrament, we crucify him again. It is the same God who has invited us into his love in the commandments. He is the sign for those who believe. Let us note that the “foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25). Destroying anything that belongs to Christ is destroying God’s temple. God wants us to respect the temple that is Christ’s body.
Remember this saying today; “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:1). He is the Lord who brought you out of sickness and pains. He is the Lord who delivered you from danger. He is the Lord who gives you life, food, wealth. He is the Lord who gives you family-wife, husband, children; the Lord who cares for you. He wants you to treat him right. Treat God with love and respect. That’s the meaning of the commandments.