March 5, 2021

Third Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

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

None of this good fortune 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 underway, and as the people wandered across the bleak Sinai peninsula in search of the land God had promised them, Moses received from God what has long been called the Ten Commandments. He then gave them to the people.

By observing these commandments, the people fulfilled their obligations under the covenant and also found 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, the proclamation that a convicted felon was 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 system established to enforce Roman law.

Corinth’s Christians, however, many of whom had been pagans, regarded Roman jurisprudence to be supremely wise. Yet, a Roman court convicted Jesus of high treason. The consequence of treason for non-Roman citizens, again as set forth in Roman law, was death by crucifixion.

Paul asserts that Jesus, the convicted felon, is the key to salvation. He admits that this reality is a “stumbling block for the Jews, and an absurdity for the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). It was glorifying a condemned convict!

For its Gospel reading, the Church this weekend furnishes us with a passage from 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 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 many years to build the temple in the first place.)

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 agent. As bystanders watched this happening unfold, they were reminded of God’s word in the Scriptures. The Lord’s actions reminded them of God.

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

Reflection

Lent reminds us of our humanity. At the same time, it is always hard for humans to admit their limitations. Admitting them frightens us and puts us in our place.

To compensate, we celebrate our human accomplishments. We congratulate ourselves, for example, on the brilliant insights into the workings of the human body. Then COVID-19 bluntly shows us that we are not as smart as we might wish to be.

Despite our knowledge, we are at the mercy of storms, earthquakes and evil decisions.

In less critical moments, we are shortsighted and foolish.

But God loves us, nonetheless. Amid our inadequacies, he forgives and redeems us. He gives us Jesus, his Son, as our Savior. How do we attain this blessing? In the Ten Commandments, God gave us the pattern of our lives. Obey the Commandments with the help that God always provides. †

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