First reading: Exodus 20:1-17.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 18(19):8-11.
Second reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25.
Gospel: John 2:13-25.
Link to readings.
It is not easy to find a common thread linking the three readings today.
The Ten Commandments set out in the First Reading, Exod 20:1-17, in no way represent a moral code imposed as if it simply dropped down from heaven. Behind the commandments and the values they enshrine lies Israel’s covenant relationship with the God who set her free from slavery in Egypt and made her a people with a unique vocation: holy, beloved and set apart. It is by way of response to the gift of freedom and life that Israel lives according to the values and prescriptions set out in the commandments, modelling in this way before the nations of the world what it means to live out the Creator’s true intent for human beings.
Hence the stress in the opening commandments upon the relationship with the Lord, as sole and unique God. Then comes the Sabbath, the day set apart each week for leisure to reflect and foster relationships, including, first of all, the foundational relationship with God. The remaining commandments, beginning with the family and extending to marriage and all social relationships, should not be seen simply as prohibitions but as enshrining the values essential to peaceful life in human society. We could perhaps linger a little on the final ones having to do with “coveting”: that human desire to possess more and more which insecurity and fear can make all-consuming. St. Paul, in Romans 7:7-8, will see in it the very essence of sin. While in themselves the Ten Commandments presuppose a social set-up vastly different from our own, the values they enshrine have an abiding and far more widespread application.
The Second Reading, 1 Cor 1:22-25, contains perhaps the most radical sentences Paul ever wrote. Centuries of Christian tradition have dulled us to the horror and shock the thought of crucifixion evoked in the Greco-Roman world. It was simply not a subject to be mentioned—let alone depicted. Yet the early Christian missionaries, such as Paul, had to proclaim a crucified One as the Lord of salvation—the very antithesis of what the two categories of audience, Jews and Greeks, were looking for. Jews wanted their Messiah to prove his credentials by performing the kind of miraculous acts and stunts suggested to Jesus by Satan at the Temptation—suggestions Jesus swiftly dismissed. The Greeks—educated citizens of the wider Mediterranean world—were looking for salvation in the form of instruction that they could consider and adopt if it seemed reasonable. Salvation in such a form would have neatly met human desires. But God had in mind a solution vastly more radical, incomprehensible to merely human understanding: an act of divine unselfishness sufficient to match and overcome the entire accumulated mass of human selfishness and sin. The very capacity to see the Cross in these terms is something itself requiring the gift of God. Hence Paul’s insistence that only “those who are called”, those, that is, who have been grasped by God’s grace, can see the Cross as the power and the wisdom of God.
We may think that we have come to terms with this mystery. Then suffering or loss in some new form forces us to confront it anew. Every Lent is an invitation to journey once again to the heart of the Paschal Mystery and expose ourselves to a fresh appreciation of the Cross as the saving power and wisdom of God.
The Gospel, John 2:13-25, presents us with the Johannine version of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. Though the Fourth Gospel, unlike the Synoptics, places this episode at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, it has essential reference to the events of his death and resurrection. In driving out from the Temple the animals brought there for sacrifice Jesus is in effect shutting it down as a place of worship. His own body is now to become the “place” or sanctuary where God is present and is to be worshipped. “Zeal for his father’s house” will “destroy” him in the sense that his attempt to break the confinement of worship to the physical Temple will provoke the hostility that will ultimately lead to the destruction of his own physical body. But in resurrection Jesus will “raise up” the new sanctuary of his risen body where his disciples and all subsequent believers will truly “dwell” with God and God with them. The disciples will grasp the full significance of what he is now saying when they “remember” it in the light of these later events.
Jesus whole mission, centring upon his death and resurrection, is driven by a consuming zeal to bring about between human beings and their God the “at-homeness” with God that he, as beloved Son, enjoys eternally with the Father (John 1:1-2, 18; 17:5).
Brendan Byrne, SJ, FAHA, taught New Testament at Jesuit Theological College, Parkville, Vic., for almost forty years. He is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Divinity (Melbourne). His commentaries on the Gospels can be found at Pauline Books and Media