Saturday, March 14, 2009

3rd Week of Lent: Sunday

FIRST READING (Exodus 20:1-17)
God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. "You shall have no other gods before me.

"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

"Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you. "You shall not kill. "You shall not commit adultery. "You shall not steal. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. "You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's."

SECOND READING (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)
Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

GOSPEL READING (John 2:13-25)
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."

His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me."

The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; but Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.

Picture the temple, the vendors, the crowds, the confusion. The market area to the right with easy access to town. The money-changers. The special licenses and fees for selling there, with large profits to the temple management. The whole enterprise worked so very well. Then along came Jesus. He took one look at it, and righteous anger welled up within him. He got rid of it all. He cleaned the place up. And that, in fact, was a very Jewish thing to do.

It was near the time of Passover, the season we're in now, the start of spring in the northern hemisphere. Literally the time for spring-cleaning, in Jewish society a major project.

Passover is the feast of unleavened bread. So that the bread will be absolutely unleavened, the housewife has to ensure that there is no leaven in the house. In addition, everything has to be cleaned, dusted and washed to absolute perfection. Then just before the Passover meal, the father of the house does an inspection to verify that there is no leaven anywhere. A quirky part of the ritual is that the wife leaves a bit of leaven in a corner somewhere so that the husband can have a useful function and, with some flair, remove that last bit of leaven.

It's interesting that the Jewish tradition (and this was taken over by the early Church) also sees leaven as a symbol of sin. The way it penetrates and changes a whole mass of dough is like the way sin penetrates and changes a human heart. So, removing leaven from the house is a sign that sin has been removed from the house. That's the Jewish version of spring-cleaning!

Jesus saw what was going on at the temple as a sinful leaven corrupting the worship there. That's why he was so angry. That's why he drove the merchants out. In fact, it became a sign of the salvation he would bring. He was to get rid of the sinful leaven from this world by his death and resurrection. "Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days," he said. His body was the temple, and the reconstruction is his body the Church.

Lent (which comes from an old English word meaning "spring") is the season for our spiritual spring-cleaning.

In today's First Reading we hear the Ten Commandments. Not a bad starting point for our spiritual spring-clean. On each of the commandments can be hung other areas for examination. It doesn't work to say, "I haven't killed anybody," so I'm OK, because that commandment, according to Jesus, is a reminder to look for anger and destructive actions, words or thoughts. And the one about sex might only mention only adultery, but what about all the other ways we fail to show respect for sex as God intended it? You get the idea. Start spring -cleaning. Get everything dusted and washed.

Hopefully we grow a little wiser each Lent, a little more understanding of the meaning of our lives and of how we're going in our relationship with God. But the old Church gets us to spring clean annually because of our enormous capacity for self-deception. Every one of us is clever at finding new ways to rationalize and fool ourselves.

As we grow in the things of God, we start to realize that human wisdom is not enough. That's what St Paul is talking about in today's Second Reading. We need God's wisdom, and his wisdom goes beyond what is human. It centers on the Cross of Jesus. It is foolishness to some, but it is God's wisdom.

We're at a turning point in Lent. In the Mass readings of Lent, we are shifting from penitence to redemption. Our focus shifts towards the lead-up to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This transition time is when we should begin preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It's spring-cleaning time. Let's make the most of it!

O blessed Jesus, give me stillness of soul in thee. Let thy mighty calmness reign in me; Rule me, O King of gentleness, king of peace. Give me control, great power of self-control, control over my words, thoughts and actions. From all irritability, want of meekness, want of gentleness, dear Lord, deliver me. By thine own deep patience, give me patience. Make me in this and all things more and more like thee.
St John of the Cross (1542-1591)


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