THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

(Cycle B)

 

Ex 20,1-17

1 Cor 1,22-25

Jn 2,13-25

 

                 The existence of the people of God is intrinsically linked to the “Ten Commandments.” Even more in the original Hebrew to “the Ten Words”, that God proclaimed on Mt. Sinai, define the statute of the covenant, and define the physiognomy of the liberated people from slavery (first reading).  The Ten Commandments are a way of liberty and wisdom for Israel and for the whole human race.  This ancient and new law, in which is concentrated the entire will of God, for the Christian resounds and is summed up in Christ Jesus, “wisdom of God” (second reading).  He is the “new law” and the “new temple,” the definitive dwelling of the meeting between God and humanity (gospel).

                The first reading (Ex 20,1-17) lets us to hear today God’s voice that keeps on resounding in those original and foundational “Ten Words,” of the people of the covenant.  The Decalogue reflects well the mystery of the covenant: God promises himself to conserve the gift of liberty for his people; Israel, for her part, will have to walk according to the word of the Lord.  The law of Sinai is not arbitrary, nor does it come from a whimsical god.  Whoever promulgates these commandments, is presented from the beginning as liberator.   This law is proclaimed by a God that from the beginning desires only the liberty of man and woman:  “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaver” (Ex 20,2).  The precepts of the Decalogue ought not to be understood as something that God obligates for himself on the part of man and woman, as a type of recompense or of just retribution for the gift received.  God does not ask anything for himself.  He desires only that Israel would make liberty and life the principal foundation of her conduct and most profound desires.

                The text of the Decalogue can be divided in three parts.  In both extremes, that is to say, in the first part (vv. 3-7) and in the last (vv. 13-17), are presented the “negative” commandments, that prohibit determined actions and that all begin with the imperative “No.”  In the initial part there are three commandments that refer to the relations of the people with Yahweh as the only true God (“You shall have no gods except me…” “You shall not make yourself a carved image…” “You shall not utter the name of the Lord your God to misuse it…”).  In these commandments, God invites Israel to not divinize that which is not God and not invent for herself a distinct god from the only true God, thus only he is source of liberty and of life.  In the final part, there are five commandments that refer to relationships with one’s neighbor:   (“You shall not kill,” “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…”).  With these commandments, Israel is invited to respect the existence and rights of the other, through works, words and desire.  These have as a starting point exterior acts, to arrive at the principle root that sustains conduct:  “hand” (homicide, robbery, adultery), coming to the “mouth” (false witness) and ending with the “heart” (desire), from which all evil comes (Mt 15,19).  All of the person’s aspects ought to be compromised in the practice of justice and of charity.  In the Ten Commandments, the norm of justice and the criteria of conduct is not an abstract law, nor the search for moderation of one’s own desires. The norm of justice is “the other,” one’s neighbor, who ought to be respected in his/her right to life and liberty.  In the center of the Decalogue, there are two positive commandments, that express in a simple gesture the totality of the covenant, putting together relationship with God (“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy”) and with neighbor (“Honor your father and your mother”).  The sanctification of the sabbath gives to man and woman the possibility of entering into God’s rest (v. 11), recognizing his transcendence and rejoicing in his praise; father and mother are like a symbol of all of social life that ought to be lived in justice and love.

                Recently the Pope in his pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai has remembered that “to complete the Ten Commandments means to be faithful to God, and also to be faithful to ourselves, to our authentic nature and to our most profound aspirations…Revealing himself on the Mountain and manifesting his law, God has revealed man to man.  Mt. Sinai is found in the center of the truth about man and about his destiny.”  The Decalogue, as way of liberty and justice, goes on being actual: the word of Jesus is its fullness.  The Pope, in effect, has affirmed on Mt. Sinai that “when Saint Paul writes that ‘through the body of Christ’ we have ‘died to the law’ (Rm 7,4), he does not want to say that Sinai’s law may have passed.  He wants to indicate that the Ten Commandments now are heard through the voice of His beloved Son” (Celebration of the Word on Mt. Sinai, 2/26/2000).

                The second reading (1 Cor 1,22-25) proclaims that which Paul calls the “madness of the cross” as principle of divine wisdom, that is to say, as criteria of God’s action in history.  The proclamation of Jesus Christ Crucified reveals an image of a God radically diverse from that which the Jews and Greeks look for.  The first put their trust in a powerful divinity, capable of doing portent words to save them; the Greeks think of the divinity as a logical principle, organizer of the world.  The Jews look for a secure religion, without risks; the Greeks, prefer a religion based on rational wisdom.  On the other hand in Jesus Christ, God reveals himself, as an obstacle in front of the world’s powers, and as a fool in the eyes of the wise.  However, it is precisely in Jesus’ fidelity, that dies on the cross loving His own unto the end, where God manifests all of the wisdom and power of love.  It is precisely in this supreme act of liberty and of God’s love that man and woman’s salvation and liberation are realized.

                The gospel (Jn 2,13-25) narrates Jesus’ symbolic and prophetic act that expulses from the temple the moneychangers and vendors of animals.  The Temple of Jerusalem, center and reflection of all of the Jewish religious system, is not now a dedicated sacred place for the encounter between God and man and woman.  Jesus, in effect, upon throwing out the merchants tells them:  “stop turning my Father’s house into a market” (v. 16).  A place where egoistic economic interests reign and where the poorest are exploited under the pretext of religiosity cannot be a place of communion and of communion with God.

                In John’s gospel, the episode of the purification of the temple, that in the synoptics appears at the end of Jesus’ ministry, is anticipated a the beginning of his mission and is presented with a particular symbolic meaning, placing it in relationship with the death and resurrection of the Lord.  The authorities react and push Jesus for an explanation of his action.  Jesus responds offering the same temple as a sign:  “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19).  The Jews take the expression literally, literary artifice used frequently by John; the narrator, for his part, offers the explanation:  “But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body” (v. 21).  Jesus is the new temple.  God becomes present in a totally new and perfect form in the “temple of flesh” in the humanity of the Son of God.  The interpretation that the narrator offers can only be understood in the light of the Easter experience.  In fact the disciples remember the saying of Jesus after the resurrection and “they believed the scripture and the words he had said” (v. 22).  God is not found in any temple of stone.  God reveals himself fully only in the glorified Christ, who is the fullness of the mystery of the temple, that was already announced in the Old Testament:  “And I shall live with the Israelites and be their God, and they will know that I am Yahweh their God who brought them out of Egypt to live among them: I, Yahweh their God” (Ex 29,45-46).

                This Sunday of Lent offers us in the Decalogue a privileged text with which our existence of faith is confronted, that is to say, our relationships with God and with neighbor.  At the same time, the person of Jesus is presented to us in his twofold mystery of cross and resurrection: as crucified he is the supreme expression of divine love, wisdom and power that saves; as resurrected he is the new temple in which men and women meet God and find themselves and one another, making of their own everyday existence a liturgy of praise in the temple.