March 6, 2015

Third Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Exodus is the source of the first biblical reading this weekend. This book is about the Hebrew people, enslaved and dreadfully mistreated in Egypt. They eventually escaped from Egypt and found their new homeland.

None of this good fortune, of escape and of ultimate settlement in a land of their own, happened as a result of coincidence, luck or human strategy. It was God’s power that led the Hebrews to a successful escape from slavery. Moses, their leader in this endeavor, was God’s representative, chosen by God for the task.

As the flight was underway, and as the people wandered across the bleak Sinai peninsula in search of the land God had promised them, Moses received from God, and gave to the people, what long has been called the Ten Commandments.

By observing these commandments, the people fulfilled their obligations under their covenant with God. They also followed the path to peace and justice in life given by God, a path that they themselves could not have devised.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading. For people living in the first century, proclaiming the message of a convicted felon and considering him as divine was hard to accept.

The Jews, suffering under Roman oppression, and enduring so much, were not so apt to revere Roman law or to see profound wisdom and justice in the empire’s judicial system.

However, the Corinthian Christians, many of whom had been pagans, regarded Roman jurisprudence to be supremely wise. Nonetheless, a Roman court had tried Jesus for high treason and had found him guilty and convicted him. The consequence of treason, again as set forth in Roman law, was death by crucifixion for persons who were not Roman citizens.

Here, in this reading, Paul asserts that Jesus, the convicted felon, is the key to salvation. The Apostle preaches, “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). It is a “stumbling block for the Jews, and an absurdity for the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23).

For its Gospel reading, the Church this weekend furnishes us with a passage from St. John’s Gospel.

It recalls the time when Jesus, shortly before Passover, entered the temple precincts and found a brisk traffic underway in the things needed for ritual sacrifice.

Furious, as described by this Gospel, the Lord drove the merchants away.

He then predicted that the temple would fall, in itself a virtual blasphemy, and then made the astonishing announcement that he would rebuild the colossal structure in three days. (It had taken many people decades to build the temple in the first place.)

Scholars and leaders later used this occasion to make the case that Jesus was a blasphemer and a troublemaker.

The reading establishes Jesus as God’s voice and agent. As bystanders watch this happening unfold, they are reminded of God’s word in the Scriptures. The Lord’s actions remind them of God.

They do not fully comprehend the Lord’s words and actions, however, because they are humans, nothing less but nothing more.

Reflection

Lent reminds us of our humanity, but, everlastingly, it is hard for humans to admit their human limitations. Admitting our limitations frightens us.

So we instead celebrate our human accomplishments. We congratulate ourselves, for example, on the brilliant design of spaceships. Then, not knowing how to deflect potentially dangerous asteroids reminds us that we cannot think of everything or control everything. Epidemics, such as Ebola, leave us at the mercy of forces greater than we. Humans thus show themselves to be shortsighted and irrational.

Nonetheless, God loves us. Amid our inadequacies, he forgives us and redeems us, as he drew the ancient Hebrews out of Egypt. He has given us Jesus, his Son, as our Savior. How do we respond to this blessing? In the Ten Commandments, God gave us the pattern of our lives. Gratefully obey the commandments and God. †

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