Third Sunday of Lent — “Jesus Cleanses the Temple” — March 8, 2015
The Scriptures for the Third Sunday of Lent give us lot to think about this weekend:
1. The first reading, taken from the Book of Exodus, can serve as an examination of conscience, as we are reminded of the ten commandments which God first delivered through Moses to the Chosen People, while they wandered in the desert for forty years, between slavery in Egypt and their new life of freedom in the Promised Land.
2. The second reading, taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, tells us about the signs and wisdom which the Jews and Greeks looked for from Jesus, in order to be convinced that they should believe in him. So we ask ourselves what signs and wisdom are we looking for in our faith? Or can we see God’s power in the folly and weakness of the cross?
3. And the Gospel reading shows Jesus cleansing the Temple of people selling livestock and changing money. One might wonder what Jesus would do if he were to walk in on our celebration of the Liturgy here at Mission San Diego de Alcalá. What might Jesus want to “cleanse” here in the Mission Church, like he cleansed in the Temple of Jerusalem in today’s Gospel?
These readings provide some rich material for a Lenten homily because Lent is the season of prayer, fasting, penitence, and almsgiving.
As a youngster in Catholic school, I learned from the Baltimore Catechism that the sacrament of Confirmation makes us soldiers of Jesus Christ and Temples of the Holy Spirit. So on this Third Sunday of Lent, as the Gospel recalls how Jesus came into the Temple in Jerusalem, consumed by zeal for his Father’s house, Jesus comes also into the Temple of our hearts, consumed with zeal for us as Temples of the Holy Spirit. Doing so, Jesus wishes to cleanse us of whatever it is that might be keeping us from living our lives as his faithful followers.
So let’s look at three areas for possible cleansing suggested by today’s readings: (1) our sinfulness; (2) our expectations; and (3) our religious practices.
This area for possible cleansing is clearly suggested by the first reading: the Ten Commandments. How well do we observe these age-old statements about how we are to live in relationship with God and with one another? Remember, sins come in various forms: thoughts, desires, words, actions, and omissions. Perhaps as you heard the list of commandments, your conscience made you feel ashamed and guilty. If so, see how the Lord is calling you to repentance during this Lenten season.
If your conscience didn’t make you feel ashamed and guilty, think over those Ten Commandments again, and look not just at the sinful actions that you did or didn’t do, but also at your thoughts, desires, words, and omissions. Follow where the Lord leads you. Hear him calling you to repentance. And hear him offering you not only forgiveness for your sins, but also his help to reform your lives.
These are the signs and wisdom that Saint Paul talks about in the second reading. If we expect God to give us all the good things that we think we need, if we expect God to put and end, once and for all, to suffering and evil in the world, we have to be cleansed of these expectations. We have to be cleansed of these false expectations, so that we can able to find God in folly and in weakness, so that we can find God in Jesus on the Cross, so that we can find God in Jesus who rose from the dead. When Jesus rose from the dead, he left behind not only an empty tomb, but also many empty and false human expectations of what he should have done for people. We have to ask ourselves how our expectations of what God can and might do for us measure up to the message of Jesus’ own suffering, death and resurrection. Often our expectations are too materialistic and too short sighted to measure up to the standard of our suffering, crucified and risen Lord.
3. OUR RELIGIOUS PRACTICES
Luckily we have no bingo boards or raffle tickets here in the Mission Church this weekend. But let’s not look just at the externals of our church practices. Let’s look also at our inner motivation. This is what troubled Jesus about the religious practices common at the Temple in his day. It was all legal and external, not personal and internal.
Our Gospel reading ends with the statement that Jesus was “well aware of what was in man’s heart.” So it wasn’t simply the presence of the oxen, sheep and doves, or money and moneychangers, that annoyed Jesus there at the Temple that day. It was what was lacking in the people’s hearts. The religious practices of the Temple were dead, just as our religious practices might be dead if we do not come to church aware of the fact that we are Temples at the Holy Spirit.
So the Scriptures invite us to bring renewed life and meaning to our own religious practices, not just by driving away externals that can distract us, but by inviting into our hearts the life and power of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate Mass this weekend, I hope that we do so with a deepened awareness that what we do here each week is exactly what the Scriptures call us to do today:
First: We confess our sins and ask for forgiveness in the Penitential Act because we acknowledge our failure to obey the ten commandments;
Then: We express our expectations in the General Intercessions asking God to help us in answer to our prayers; and
Finally: We invite the Holy Spirit to come down upon bread and wine, so that as we receive that bread and wine, really changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we can be filled with the life of God himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As we come together this weekend to keep holy the sabbath day in fulfillment of the third commandment, we thank God for the sign that God has given us in Jesus Christ and in the Eucharist, in which we experience the power and the wisdom of God, and by which we are reminded that we ourselves are Temples of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord cleanse us of whatever keeps us from giving God the glory and praise that are His due.
Fr. Richard Duncanson