Mar. 3, 2018

Third Sunday of Lent, 2018

“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.