Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - March 7, 2021
On the Third Sunday of Lent, the Church turns in prayer to God, the “author of every mercy and all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving has shown us a remedy for sin… and lifts us up by His mercy” (cf. Roman Missal, Collect for Mass). The Word of God proclaimed today encourages and assists our response to God’s merciful actions on our behalf. While Lent calls us to move more deeply into the life of faith and to actively living the faith, Lent is also about God’s continuing efforts to make himself known to his people and strengthening his relationship with them, that is, with us.
In today’s First Reading from the Book of Exodus, God delivers the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, with whom he has already established a relationship by delivering them from slavery and oppression in Egypt. Now, God is entering into a closer covenant relationship with Israel. To be God’s special and treasured possession, Israel must gratefully and faithfully obey the words of the Ten Commandments. As the loving and faithful God draws closer to them, they are called to draw more deeply into their relationship with him and with one another. To grow in a relationship with God, as the first three commandments guide them, God’s chosen people must also be more responsible and respectful toward their neighbors, as the fourth through the tenth commandments dictate. The two Great Commandments that Jesus will give in the Gospel tradition, regarding the love of God and love of neighbor, find their foundation in the covenant God makes with Israel, and especially here in the Ten Commandments.
These are “words of everlasting life,” as today’s Responsorial Psalm praises God’s instruction. Far different from our modern mentality that can consider the law in a restrictive sense, today’s Psalm expresses quite clearly how Israel understood God’s instruction as a guide for living faithfully, gratefully, and joyfully. It is not surprising that the psalmist can speak of God’s law as “sweeter than honey from the comb.”
The relation with and in God takes on a new and deeper meaning as we hear today’s Gospel account of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. All four Gospels report the event, and they indicate that it puts Jesus in direct conflict with the authorities in a way that eventually leads to his arrest and crucifixion. In the Gospel of John, it is about more than an effort to purify the Temple because Jesus’ overturning of the tables also foretells the replacement of the Temple by a new one, to be built by Jesus in three days. John points out that Jesus’ words are only understood after his death and resurrection because he was speaking of the Temple of his Body. The Temple of his body would, in fact, be destroyed, and in three days, be raised up. Sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem would give way to the sacrifice of Jesus. His death and Resurrection would complete the transition from the old order to the new and bring about the ultimate act of atonement and worship. As the new Temple, Jesus is God’s new dwelling among his people, the privileged place of encounter between God and humankind.
Here is the real “power of God and wisdom of God,” a Saint Paul tells the Corinthians and us in the Second Reading. In Christ, God continues to draw closer to us for our redemption. In Christ, we find the source of new life.
Lent continues to invite us to grow more deeply in our relationship with God through his Son. As members of the Body of Christ, who strive to abide in the love of God and neighbor, we pray that we, with Christ’s help, will continue to join ourselves more closely to God and one another.