3 SUNDAY LENT B 2012
Today we have in the first reading, God’s expectation for His people. The first three commandments concern the proper attitude and conduct toward God. This first table concerning duty to God is unique to Scripture. The remaining verses of this text focus on the relationships that bind human beings to one another in community similar to the Code of Hammurabi. Each precept safeguards a value that every healthy society upholds and protects: family, life, marriage and fidelity, property rights, honesty, integrity, house and home. For the Israelite these latter seven social commandments were dependent on the first three commandments regarding God, and all were thought to be an expression of the divine will.
God promises to lead the Israelites safely to a land of promise, and there give them life. In return, the people are to respect God and each other. In the ten commandments, God gives us the basic instruction manual for life. In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, we are challenged to exceed the minimum and seek the ideal. The ten commandments forbid murder. The Sermon on the Mount and the life of Christ, invite us to love our enemy, turn the other cheek and so on.
In one of his sermons on the Eucharist, Ronald Knox, a convert to the Catholic faith, made this observation: Throughout two thousand years of history, Christians, both whole churches and individual believers, have consistently been able to ignore many of Jesus' key commandments and invitations. We have either been too weak to follow his counsels or we have rationalized them away in some way.
And so, to a large extent, we have exempted ourselves from the demand to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek when attacked, to forgive 70 times 7, to leave our gift at the altar and first go and seek reconciliation with our brother before we worship, to place justice on the same level as worship, to see mercy as more important than dogma, to not commit adultery, to not steal, to not call someone a fool, to not tell lies, to not give in to jealousy. We have, in virtually every one of these areas, individually and collectively, a history of infidelity and rationalization.
How do we be faithful and not create our own alibi to avoid conviction? The commandments and invitations of Jesus are helpful, but the Spirit of love must guide us and assist us to discern the proper action in every circumstance. Suppose you take the commandment about turning the other cheek to apply to someone who is beating his wife. Should I not try to stop him? Would I not then, simply be cooperating with his evil. The commandment about turning the other cheek has to be applied in the context of the broader rule: love your enemy. If you enable your enemy to become more evil, how have you loved him? If you accept oppression of the weak how is that faithful to Christ? Scripture elsewhere says, if you do not correct your brother, you take his sin upon yourself.
How do we reconcile Jesus with the whip in the temple and the Jesus whipped and scourged in the temple?
Live with God’s love at the center. While laws may superficially influence behavior, only the radical redirecting of love can change hearts.
Jesus didn’t insist on many laws except the one that directs our love to God and each other. Jesus respected the law and said he “came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it”, but he clearly put the law of love above prescriptions of the Judaic law: we see Him working on the sabbath, touching the dead, coming into contact with blood, eating with sinners, ignoring ritual washings. He never said the old laws weren’t important, but clearly some things were more important. The Pharisees judged that Jesus did not live a moral life. As St. Augustine taught, “Love and do what you will”. It is in this context that we the Christ in today’s gospel.
St. John, in his gospel, is stressing right from the start that Jesus has come to replace the Temple and all that it stands for because it is no longer serving its purpose as a privileged place of encounter between God and Man. Jesus has come to replace the Temple with his own person. It is in and through him that the encounter between God and humankind now takes place.
The Temple worship has become debased, the Temple Priesthood has become corrupted and the Temple itself has become a place where commerce and the exploitation of the poor have become institutionalized. Animals were sold within the Temple precincts for the convenience of pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem to make sacrifices for the major feasts. Because only the Tyrian half-shekel was accepted in the Temple, moneychangers were on hand to exchange currency from other regions. Both groups took advantage of the situation to exact an excessive profit. In addition to their dishonesty, these merchants detracted from the sanctity of the Temple and its liturgy. When Jesus witnesses this he is consumed with fury and he drives the money changers out of the Temple.
The important thing is not so much the various details of the story as the extraordinary powerful symbolism of this incident. The Temple is primarily for the worship of the one true God. But it is not primarily a story about a building, no matter how beautifully it was constructed, it is about another temple. "God’s temple is holy," and you are that temple.
St Augustine said; “Our Lord’s driving out of the temple people who were seeking their own ends, who came to the temple to buy and sell, is symbolic. For if that temple was a symbol it obviously follows that the body of Christ, the true temple of which the other was an image, has within it some who are buyers and sellers, or in other words, people who are seeking their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ.”
What is the loving thing to do? We need to reflect on Christ on the Cross. Instead of worrying about our wants, we have to consider another’s needs and how our decision can best bring God’s love to another. Jesus calls us to a restoration of the eternal values of justice, truth and mercy. This is the real Cleansing we should be concerned with; the cleansing and purification of our own hearts and souls.
As we renew our baptismal commitment this Lent, we seek to enshrine God’s commandments in our hearts. The outward law is interpreted by the law of love written on our hearts.