March 13, 2009

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, as they escaped from Egypt and eventually found their new homeland.

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

As the flight was under way, and as the people wandered across the bleak Sinai peninsula in search of the land that 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 the Covenant. They also followed the path to peace and justice in life given by God, a path that they could not have devised by themselves.

St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading.

For persons living in the first century A.D., the proclamation, and beyond this the deification, of a convicted felon 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 system established to enforce Roman law.

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

In this reading, Paul asserts that Jesus, the convicted felon, is the key to salvation. The Apostle preaches “Christ crucified.” It is a “stumbling block for the Jews and an absurdity for the Gentiles.”

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

This weekend’s reading recalls the time when Jesus, shortly before Passover, entered the temple precincts and found a brisk traffic under way in the things needed for ritual sacrifice.

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

He predicted that the temple would fall, in itself a virtual blasphemy, then 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.

Jewish legal scholars and leaders later used this occasion to argue that Jesus was a blasphemer and a troublemaker.

The reading establishes Jesus as God’s voice and God’s 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.

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


Lent reminds us of our humanity. Everlastingly, however, it is hard for humans to admit their human limitations. We cannot easily admit our limitations.

We celebrate our human accomplishments. We congratulate ourselves, for example, on the brilliant design of spaceships. Then tragedies of the defective space shuttles and most recently the botched launch of a satellite to study climate change remind us that we never think of everything.

Very much is beyond our control. Humans are shortsighted and often irrational.

Nevertheless, God loves us. He rescued the ancient Hebrews from death and pain in Egypt. He has given us Jesus, the Son of God, as our Savior. In the Ten Commandments, God gave us the absolute pattern of our lives.

We need God. Jesus is the final and supreme teacher. Jesus is God. †

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