March 9, 2012

Third Sunday in Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Exodus is the source of the first biblical reading this weekend.

In Hebrew history, the Exodus virtually was unsurpassed as an event of great significance unless perhaps this distinction goes to creation itself.

In the Exodus, the Hebrew people, enslaved and dreadfully mistreated in Egypt, escaped from their captors. Eventually, they found their new homeland.

None of this good fortune happened because of luck or human strategy. Rather, God's power led the Hebrews to a successful escape from Egypt.

Moses, their leader in this endeavor, was chosen by God for the task.

As the flight was underway, Moses received from God and then gave to the people what long has been called the Ten Commandments.

These familiar commandments formed the essential requisites for the relationship between God and the Hebrew people. By observing these commandments, the people fulfill their obligations under the Covenant. It was as if the commandments were a legal contract, solemnly binding both parties.

St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, the source of the second reading, goes to the heart of the Christian message.

Christianity preaches Christ. In this reading, Paul asserts that Jesus is the key to salvation. So, the Apostle declares, he preaches, "Christ crucified."

It is a "stumbling block for the Jews and an absurdity for the Gentiles."

The Jews, suffering under Roman oppression and enduring so much, were inclined to regard Jesus as an imposter and blasphemer.

Others, "gentiles," would have seen Jesus as a convicted felon, found guilty by the jurisprudence of Rome that proclaimed its wisdom and perfection.

For its Gospel reading, the Church this weekend furnishes us with St. John's Gospel.

This weekend's reading is one of the most familiar sections of the New Testament.

It recalls the time when Jesus, shortly before Passover, entered the temple precincts and found a brisk traffic of sales in the things needed for ritual sacrifice. Furious, the Lord drove the merchants away.

He then predicted that the temple would fall, in itself a virtual blasphemy for many who witnessed this event, and made the astonishing announcement that he would rebuild the colossal structure in three days. It had taken many people many years to build the temple in the first place.

The Gospel reading sets the stage for Good Friday when the accusers of Jesus would refer to the Lord's prediction that the temple would fall, claiming that Jesus was a blasphemer and troublemaker.

The Lord's prediction about re-building the temple in three days looked ahead to the Resurrection.

The reading establishes Jesus as God's voice and God's agent. He is outdone at the misuse of the temple. The reading also looks forward to Calvary and the Resurrection, the climactic moments in Redemption.

This reading also reveals much about the bystanders. The Lord's reaction to the money-changers and peddlers reminds them of the Scriptures, yet they fail to fully grasp the Lord's identity or message.

Reflection

Lent reminds us of our humanity. Despite all the differences in lifestyles and scientific knowledge, nothing removes us from the condition in which the contemporaries of Jesus lived. We, as were they, are humans, subject to human limitations.

Being human has its bright side. We congratulate ourselves, for example, on the brilliant design of space shuttles and other complex technologies.

The dark side is that we, as did the accusers of Jesus, fail to see reality in full perspective. When it comes to right or wrong, too often we choose the wrong side.

Sin brings, and often has brought, such injury to people. Stubbornly, we hold onto sin. Lenten discipline calls us more sharply to focus, better to see sin in its reality.

God never deserts us, even in our folly. He forever gives us life. Jesus is our Savior and example. He alone has the way to eternal life. †

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