Sunday Reflection 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B‏

Here comes our Sunday reflection.
Fara Wo Milan Fr Joe Dufe

3rd Sunday of Lent Year B
First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
God spoke all these words. He said, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.You shall have no gods except me.You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God and I punish the fathers fault in the sons, the grandsons, and the great‑grandsons of those who hate me; but I show kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.You shall not utter the name of the Lord your God to misuse it, for the Lord will not leave unpunished the man who utters his name to misuse it.

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath for the Lord your God. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the stranger who lives with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that these hold, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why the Lord has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred. Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God has given to you. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his servant, man or woman, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is his”. The word of the Lord.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

While the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. The word of the Lord.

Gospel: John 2:13‑25
Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon‑sellers, “Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.” Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, “What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty‑six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said. During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him. The Gospel of the Lord.

3rd Sunday of Lent Year B
Ex. 20:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:18, 22-25; John 2:13-25
Religious zeal justifies anger
Psychologists tell us that aggressiveness is part of our make-up and that it plays an important part in the way we relate to others. We speak of the aggressiveness of others but hardly do we speak about ours – sometimes covering it up with the language of politeness and tolerance. Nevertheless, more often than not, our real feelings leak through the strain of trying to live with others and the nakedness of our hostility shines out for all to see.

As a flash-back, on the first Sunday of Lent we talked about desert experience. On the second Sunday we talked about mountaintop experience. Today we are talking about temple experience. The desert, the mountaintop and the temple are places of special encounter with God. But today we are not going to see the glorious face of Jesus; we are going to see his angry face. Jesus is not happy with what he sees precisely because the way the Temple worship has been organised no longer reflects God’s original idea of a worshipping community. Statues would have leapt at his aggressiveness, I suppose. Two reasons can be given for this seemingly abnormal behavior of the Lord of the Temple, namely,
· the religious leaders had put rituals over morality, and
· they had put particularity over universality.

When we take a good look at the number of collections that are made in our churches and the expensive nature of our religious institutions, we may wonder if our churches and religious institutions have not become financial institutions. It is true that the church cannot run its activities and institutions on pebbles. Being an institution that lives in the world, the church must make use of the world’s resources for her physical survival. But the question remains: “to what extent?” How would Jesus feel if he were to enter some of our churches? How about pastors who have left aside the spiritual dimension of the faithful and concentrated on the financial, even business aspect? Yes, man does not live on bread alone…

During our harvest thanksgiving, we are exhorted to give the best of our produce to God and not just the remnants or what we do not need. During the time of Jesus, the religious administrators of the Temple worship took pains to see that worshippers were duly supplied with high quality cattle, sheep and doves for sacrifice. As people came from distant places, they could not bring the animals they needed for the sacrifice with them. The business in the outer court justifiably allowed such people to buy what they needed. But what was meant to be a help soon turned out to be business, with the resulting exploitation of the poor to the benefit of the traders and the priests. They even made sure that the “dirty” money people brought with them could be exchanged for the “holy” Temple money. In fact, they wanted that what the people had to offer to God was the best. At the same time, however, they were plotting against Jesus. If they took all that trouble to please God in worship, why couldn’t they take the trouble to investigate the claims of Jesus rather than condemn him so readily? For them, pleasing God had become something you do in the rituals of the Temple and not in your relationship with people.

Furthermore, to turn religion into a business is an insult to God. This is the kind of religiosity that made Jesus really angry.
The story is told of a priest who was coming back to his parish house one evening in the dark only to be accosted by a robber who pulled a gun at him and demanded, “Your money or your life!” As the priest reached his hand into his coat pocket the robber saw his Roman collar and said, “Ah so you are a priest? Then you can go.” The priest was rather surprised at this unexpected show of piety and so tried to reciprocate by offering the robber his packet of cigarettes, to which the robber replied, “No, Father, I don’t smoke during Lent.” You can see how this robber is trying to keep the pious observance of not smoking during Lent while forgetting the more fundamental commandment of God, “Thou shalt not steal.”

The second reason why Jesus was mad with the Temple priests was their practice of religious particularity over against universality, of exclusiveness over inclusiveness, of egoism rather than altruism. Some knowledge of the design of the Temple will help us here. The Temple had five sections or courts:
· holy of holies
· court of priests
· court of Israel
· court of women
· court of Gentiles.
Though these were seen as five concentric circles of sanctity, the design made room for everybody in the house of God. It was a universal house of God “for all the nations” where every man or woman on earth would find a place in which to pray. But the Temple priests forgot that and thought that it was meant for Jews alone. So they decided to turn the court of the Gentiles into a “holy” market place for selling the animals required for sacrifice and for exchanging money. You could bring Roman money as far as the court of the Gentiles but not into the other four courts.
The court of Gentiles was no longer regarded as part and parcel of the house of God for it had become a market place, pure and simple. Now it was this court of Gentiles that Jesus cleansed. In so doing he was making the point that the Gentile section was just as holy as the Jewish sections. God is God of all and everywhere and not the God of a selected group localized in particular corners. Like the Jews of the time of Jesus, some Christians today still think that God belongs to them alone and not to others as well.
A certain man died and went to heaven and St. Peter was showing him round. St. Peter pointed to different mansions: “Here are the Jews, here the Buddhists, here the Moslems, etc.” Then they came to a large compound surrounded by a high wall and inside they could hear singing and laughter. “Who are those?” asked the new arrival. And St. Peter hushed him, “Hush! They’re the Christians – but they think they’re the only ones here.”

Believers like these need a Temple court experience to awaken them to the universal love of God and bring them back to true worship. It often happens we so deeply and arduously defend the very church that we do not understand. The temple administrators of Jesus’ time thought they were defending God’s reign, yet they did not know that the real kingdom, the real temple – Jesus – was among them. So when they asked for a sign as proof of his authority for acting the way he did, he challenged them that he would rebuild the temple in three days if they pull it down. And herein lies one of the predictions of the cross. These authorities did not think that suffering could be so holy a human experience.

In today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians, St. Paul condemns religious thinking which does not recognize the cross as an essential part of true Christianity faith. For Paul the Christian message, far from being a prosperity gospel as preached by many of our street “men of God” is the message of the cross. God’s foolishness as seen through the cross is wiser than human wisdom; the weakness of God as expressed through the cross is stronger than any human strength. The theology of the cross, unlike prosperity theology, recognizes that hardships and contradictions can, and often do, go along with true belief in the crucified and risen Lord. Ultimately, the reward for true faith is out of this world. Believing that the reward for righteousness is always found in this life is nothing but materialism in religious garb, a turning of religion into economics.

Jews demanded signs. According to their belief, the Messiah, the Son of God would have to prove it by signs and wonders. But Jesus fundamentally said no to a life of signs and wonders. When the devil tempted him to jump down from the pinnacle of the temple and amaze the people into believing, he turned it down. When the onlookers at the crucifixion taunted him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him” (Matt. 27:42) he did not act up to their expectations. Jesus challenged the dominant prosperity theology of the Jews at every point. As if this were not enough, Jesus gave them a negative sign. The cross was a negative sign.

The Hebrew Scriptures have it that “Anyone that is hanged is accursed by God” (Deut. 21:23). To the Jews the fact that Jesus was hanged on the cross, far from proving that Jesus was the Son of God, disproved it. The Jews looked for signs and wonders. What they got instead was the cross, a negative sign.
The Greeks, on the other hand, demanded wisdom. They had developed a logical philosophy of God and expected God to act in accordance with their philosophy. For example, they believed that God cannot suffer. So anyone who suffers and dies on the cross cannot claim to be divine. Here again, the crucifixion of Christ becomes an obstacle in accepting the Christian message, especially for legalistic people, people who keep the law to its minutest details forgetting that the law was made for man and not man for the law. The first reading of today lays before us the Decalogue which in Jesus is reduced to love of God and of neighbour. Such that where there is no love the law has no meaning. We all know that the motive of the cross was love whereby he loved his own to the end. A loveless cross is a worthless cross.

The cross was an obstacle to true Christian faith to the Jews and the Greeks of Paul’s time because they were legalists and their legalism did not have a place for crosses as means of salvation – they had no love motive. What about us today? The cross is still a problem for us. Do we still seek the prosperity gospel? We worship and praise God when things are going well for us. But will we still worship and praise Him when things are hard for us? If we could use the type of aggressiveness we have in other areas of our life for the enhancement of the values of the kingdom of God, then we could move mountains with our human effort and grow in zeal for the temple. May God give us true faith such that we can love and serve Him unconditionally, to continue believing in the sun even when it isn’t shining, to keep believing, loving and serving God, even when we are hanging on the cross apparently abandoned by God.

Be a light to the world and salt to the earth

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