Breaking Open the Word

March 7, 2021

 

3rd Sunday of Lent

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Introduction

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In the first reading God is declaring the Ten Commandments to the Israeli people through Moses. These rules would be a good basis for the foundation of any human society. God starts out recalling His salvation plan for the Israelites and reminding them that He is the creator of everything.

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is divided into 4 parts, and the 3rd part is dedicated to the Ten Commandments. Of the 801 pages, this part is 191 pages. It goes into great detail:

The First Commandment: 13 pages, this is the most frequently broken commandment

Second Commandment: 4 pages, saying G.D. is a serious sin. But don’t say O.M.G. either

Third Commandment: 7 pages, even if being exempt from Sunday Mass, the day is still Holy

Fourth Commandment: 14 pages, the duties of children, parents, and families in society

Fifth Commandment: 15 pages, the sacredness of life, health, peace, and about scandal

Sixth Commandment: 17 pages, living in chastity within the station of your life

Seventh Commandment: 14 pages, on the rights and responsibilities of private property

Eighth Commandment: 11 pages, seeking and respecting the truth

Ninth Commandment: 5 pages, purity of the heart, modesty, and concupiscence explained

Tenth Commandment: 6 pages, envy, desire for the goods of the world draw away from God

 

You sometimes see the ten commandments as two tablets. The left, the first three concern our relationship with God, and the right, the other seven concern our relationship with mankind. When Jesus was asked which are the two greatest commandments, He declares: 1) Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Following the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, all ten commandments are united in growing your relationship with God and can’t be separated.

 

Psalm 19 is a beautiful prayer written by King David. The response sets the tone, “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” The law of God is described in seven synonyms: perfect, trustworthy, right, clear, pure, true, and just. Those who are obedient to the law will receive a great reward, more that anything the world can offer.

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Gospel Explained

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There are three stories to examine in this Sunday’s gospel reading. The first and most intriguing is referred to as Jesus cleansing in the temple. In John’s gospel it is placed right after his miracle of the wine at the wedding in Cana. In the other gospels it occurs right before His passion. To John, Jesus is establishing His Authority as the Son of God. This is the first time in John he refers to God as His Father, which He will use many more times throughout the rest of this gospel.

 

Of course you can recall in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:49) how at the age of 12 Jesus, when missing for 3 days and was found in the temple, He told His mother “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” It is likely that when He was 12 the outer portico was a place for the exchange of ideas, as the young Jesus was found sitting with the teachers who were astounded by His wisdom. But now this area, which King Herod had built for the Gentiles to be able to learn and worship in the temple, had been reduced to a noisy marketplace.

 

This must have been too much for Jesus. Perhaps it had gotten much worse since the last time he visited the temple. The apostles later remembering the incident recalled Psalm 69, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” But the next line of the psalm reveals what may be the inner thinking of Jesus: “For the reproach of those who reproach you have fallen on me.” Jesus as the Son of the Father is seeing the money changers and merchants who are making a marketplace out of the temple, the Father’s house, not only as an insult against the Father but personally against Him. The Old Testament certainly has stories of similar rage against those who show great disobedience to God. Jesus’ behavior here is very much like that of the prophets, who did many similar acts in the name of God. Recall how God reacted when He discovered sinfulness in the garden of Eden. He condemned the serpent, set the rules of suffering for Adam and Eve, and then banished them from the garden.

 

The second story is the reaction of the Jews. They didn’t have Him arrested, but they challenged His authority to do this. In their usual request looking for a sign (see the second reading), Jesus gives a very oblique answer about being able to rebuild the destroyed temple in 3 days, something they interpreted as the 46 year old building. He did answer the question honestly though, His sign would be the cross and resurrection. They would never comprehend that answer, and neither did His followers that day. Jesus gave many such confusing answers and parable stories. Why? The people with hardened hearts who would never follow Him would never understand His message, His mission, His divinity, His resurrection for sure. And although His followers wouldn’t understand at the time, His coded messages would all fit together after the crucifixion and resurrection and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. Many times in the gospels, including this one, they mention the apostles recalling scripture and Jesus’ words.

 

But why was He talking about the temple? In Moses time, the Ark of the Covenant traveled with the Jewish people and God was present in it. When Solomon built the first temple, the Ark resided in the temple, so God resided in the temple. When that temple was destroyed the Ark was forever lost. This temple built by king Herod did not contain God’s presence, it was only the Father’s house, a place to worship Him. Actually, with Jesus there it was again a Holy temple with God’s presence, but only He knew that, and that’s why He needed to purify it. This temple could and would be destroyed because He was the new and forever temple.

 

There is a third story in this week’s gospel too. After this incident, while Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover He performed many signs, which imply miracle healings, and many came to believe in Him. But the next line is so interesting: “But Jesus would not trust Himself to them because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He Himself understood it well.” He knew human nature well enough to know they would have wanted to make Him king. He ran into this issue constantly. Every town He visited flooded Him with sick, lame, possessed people wanting to be cured. When He fed the huge crowds, they followed Him for more food and to make Him the bread king. So in this story, Jesus knew enough to not let all their glory on Him distract Him from His mission. Maybe He was recalling and again rejecting satan’s temptations in the desert here.

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Today’s Theme:

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The theme for this Sunday’s readings is obedience to God. We start out with the reading of the Ten Commandments. The psalm continues the theme, extolling the virtues of obeying the laws of God. If we look in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), Jesus takes the Ten Commandments and refines them. While they are very good rules to have an orderly society, Jesus defines them in practical applications. He will start out explaining a Jewish law, “You have heard it said...”, then expand on it and say ”...but I say to you,...” It will not be enough as His disciple to just follow the letter of the law, looking for loopholes, but to follow the spirit of the law. Many times in the book of Leviticus it is commanded by God “be holy, because I am Holy.” Jesus is showing the way to be Holy like God, for indeed God is speaking. The people listening comment that He speaks on His own authority, not like the scribes and Pharisees, who only quote another teacher. He is showing what it means to really have a relationship with God, not just work on a ten point checklist.

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Theme in Our Life

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In thinking about obedience to God, I recall Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus say “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

 

Now to a non-believer or even some believers, it seems like living the life of a follower of Christ is a difficult yoke and a heavy burden. You always have to do the right thing, while people who have no religion can basically do anything they want within the scope of man-made laws, maybe. We seem to be the ones who are always denying the so-called good things of life. So this passage seems to contradict life observation. But not so, not so. Sin has a heavy burden, it is a yoke that can get heavy and painful and often you have to bear it alone. Jesus is offering two things, to teach you and give you rest. He says says to take His yoke, which means He has a yoke for two, so He will bear your burden side by side with you. And without sin, life is easier and the burden is lighter, just as He said. He even promises rest for us. So obedience to the ten commandments does make our lives easier.

 

Obedience to God’s will in our lives is a trust that God will take care of us. That trust allows us to live in the moment, that God is constantly looking out for us. With enough of that trust we have a hope that we find ourselves in the right place at the right time for the right reason, doing God’s work. And we don’t have to live in the past because we trust in God’s mercy to forgive us of past failures.

 

St. Paul says that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us (1 Cor 3:16). Is our temple a place where God can be worshiped, or has it slowly become a marketplace of the world’s goods? Is there buying and selling in the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust? Yet we are a people of hope because we have forgiveness in the sacrament of confession.

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Preparing for Sunday

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To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:

 

1. If someone were to ask you, can you recite the Ten Commandments? In order? If not, challenge yourself to learn them, so that you can keep testing your actions before God.

2. Spend time this Lent reading the Catechism, studying the section on the Ten Commandments. You still have time to study 3 a week before Easter. Then go and make a good confession. If you don’t have a copy of the Catechism, here is a link to an online version:

https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/500/

 

 

Let us pray:

Father, thank you for an example of Jesus' moral outrage and cleansing of the temple. Help us to stand strong against wrongs. And, Lord, cleanse the temples of our hearts, no matter how much we might be offended and upset. Forgive us and purify us so that when we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist may be our hearts be holy temples where you can reside. In the name of Jesus we pray.

 

Amen.

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