3rd Sunday of Lent Year B

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up 

Exodus 20:1-17 [God spoke all these words]

Psalm 19:8-11 [Lord, you have the words of everlasting life]

I Corinthians 1:22-25 [We preach Christ crucified]

John 2:13-25 [Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up]

Today, the rubrics indicate that if the First scrutinies are to be celebrated, as part of the necessary cleansing and exorcism which the Church carries out for catechumens, in the on-going celebration of the Rite of Christian initiation of adults, then the Liturgical readings of Year A are recommended. In which case, those who can still have recourse to the reflections of Year A may as well meditate on that. What we have here ordinarily are reflections for Year B which presume that there are no scrutinies.

In this case, we may not call it the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman!!! The Gospel of today is talking about the cleansing of the Temple. The Liturgy of the word takes up the idea of the Divine way of reasoning and offers this to the world: the words God spoke! The Gospel contrasts the Divine pattern of thought with the worldly, using the idea of the way the world approaches things ‘Church’; how we use the Temple of the Lord. We know that the Biblical notion of Temple acquires several meanings, including the Church as an assembly, as a building, as the body of Christ and as our own bodies and indeed, Christ Himself. The issue at stake seems to be the wrong usage of the Temple. But will end up referring to the wrong way of treating “The Temple”, Jesus Christ and consequently, every other Temple that the term implies. What the Gospel seems to highlight is this idea of commercializing things pertaining to God, of transforming religious things into industrial or money-making event. This mentality abounds in our experiences regarding things Church: searching for a God that enriches us financially for wrong motives, and making wrong use of religion for personal benefits. Jesus uses one of the themes of Lent to highlight the main purpose of the use of ‘my father’s house’. The Lenten theme of prayer spoken of in the Collect is in focus. The Temple must be a house of prayer. In our entire life, the Temple of the body, must be a place in constant dialogue with the Father. When the Church assembles, the main focus must be this relating with the Father. Lent is a time to reflect and ask for God’s forgiveness for the times we have strayed from this main activity of constant dialogue with God and in a designated place: the true Temple, Jesus Christ as we experience Him in our innermost being, or innermost temples.

It is with such reflections that we understand the Entrance Antiphon: My eyes are always on the Lord. The prayer experience is all about having our gaze fixed on the Lord, since it is He who frees us from the snare of the enemy, from the temptations and traps set by the evil one, that eventually make us turn our gaze away from the Lord to economic gains. Lord, turn to us and have mercy. You know we are poor and that when we have our eyes on you the temptation to think we are lonely abound.

When we look at the way we sometime drift from the main purpose of following Christ; the way we have to use the Temple, we cannot help being weighed down by our consciences. We see how sinful we have become. The urgency of fasting, of prayer and of letting go and giving away not only the excesses we have accumulated unjustly but also the excesses that may enhance others through the act of charitable alms-giving dawns on us. And so the Church asks God, the author of every mercy and of all goodness, to look with kindness, with graciousness on this our acknowledgement of how lowly we are, how unworthy, how sinful we are. The Church asks God to lift us up, to lift up His people now weighed down by guilty consciences. The practice of fasting, prayer and alms-giving help a lot as great remedies that bring us back.

What is it that weighs our consciences down? What are the guidelines that make us realize how lowly and unworthy, how sinful we are? They are the Precepts of the Lord. Today, while Jesus reminds those in the Temple of how to use His Father’s house, it must immediately make us ask: what else do we do that blurs or blinds our gaze on the Lord? The other readings carry this answer: all is related to our attitude towards the Precepts of the Lord.

The Psalm qualifies the Divine Precepts. They are right, joy for the heart, pure, enlightenment for the eyes. The precepts, synonymous to commandments, ordinances are true, just. Desiring the precepts of the Lord is better than desiring silver and gold, sweeter than honey, natural honey dripping from the comb. The commands of the Lord warn us. There is clarity in the Lord’s precepts. Those who keep them are manifesting the fear of the Lord. Keeping them gladdens the heart and even helps to acquit us from faults that are hidden, from any sin that might be committed out of presumption. When we keep the precepts of the Lord, we stand out, blameless and innocent.

The First Reading lays down these precepts in what we now know as the Ten Words, or the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue. While they now provide for us a check list in Lent as we seek to be reconciled with God and our neighbours, they stand out as the guiding principles that contain Divine wisdom: written out with clarity, and to be appreciated more than silver and gold. They are not meant weigh our consciences down, but to guide us in living a life in which our gaze is fixed on the Lord. We must read them alongside the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6,7) to find in them absolute Christian meaning.

It is interesting, that when people reflect on the source of the Ten Words, they establish, among many other things that the words are the summary or leading words of 613 rules contained in the Mosaic Legislation. One of the explanations of the number 613 is given thus: ‘the human body has 248 bones. If we add this to 365 days in a year, we have 613. Our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence, every day of our lives, the Lord expects that in the core of our bodies, deep in our bones, we observe His precepts. This is an interesting reflection that unites the Gospel and the Laws. Christ’s body is the Temple. Destroy this Temple, he tells us, and I will build it in three days. Christ’s Law is the perfection of the Ten Words. He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it. His new law, is the Law of Love, summarized in the commandment: You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these, Jesus reminds us, hinges the entire Law and the Prophets.

During this Lent, we need therefore to look into our hearts and make an introspection, to establish the ways in which we transgress the Divine precepts: It is about a question of the God we truly worship; how we worship Him; how we proclaim our faith in Him and when we worship Him. It has to do with an on-going regular and constant encounter, or appointment designed to unite us to the Lord and to the people who now are our brothers and sisters in and through the great Assembly, first carried out on Sabbath, but now, thanks to the Resurrection, transferred to Sunday. Jesus is not only worried about the Holy Name of God, but also the Holy Place of God.

We need to consider our relationship to human authority as ordained by God Himself, not as imposed by the principle of ‘might is right!’ This call to honour parents and any other institution that represents the sublime parental guiding and nourishing voice in our lives: superiors, church authorities, teachers, legitimate and just governments, traditional authorities, guardians etc is so crucial in making us live in reality a replica of the spiritual obedience we profess about the Divine authority governing our entire lives.

We need to consider the issues related to killing in a multi-dimensional manner as they appear today in society, recognizing that God is the author of life: homicide, tyrranicide, genocide, suicide, infanticide, fratricide, abortion, anger, character assassination or defamation, calumny and so on, all these done deliberately. These too weigh us down.

It is a moment for us to reflect on all sexual sins. True enough the starting point is adultery. Yet we must soon realize how Christ means in the New Order, to take us through a journey of bodily purity. We would need to combine the 9th Word here for convenience: Do not covet your neighbour’s wife. It is Lent. So we need to ask questions regarding the reasons for letting our sexual inclination dictate the entire purpose of our lives. On this issue, Christ has in mind a life of chastity both as a moral virtue formed by love, and as a gift of the Holy Spirit. We know that the issues here include our sexual practices, be they heterosexual or homosexual, the one no less implicating than the other when they become deviations. We need to think about our attitudes regarding contraception, birth control; attitudes related to scientific advancements that violate the human conscience. We need to examine the intentions we entertain when disordered or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure (lust) becomes out portion, not excluding issues like masturbation, pornography, prostitution, necking and petting, rape etc. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes an elaborate presentation of the commandments in general.

Now is the favourable time to face these precepts that protect humankind in its natural rights against the injustices of fellows. Protecting not only our lives and the honor of our bodies, but also our lawful possessions, our good name or reputation, our desiring what is right by way of property, are all things we must be resolved about.

There is Divine wisdom in His Word, and in the words. His Word finds personification in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is true that His words: the Divine Precepts continue to spark a lot of debate across the world from people who tag themselves either as atheists, or non-Christians or anti-Christ or even people who bear the identity of Christian but pose as liberalists, or even those who find the words  an obstacle to the attainment of their commercial initiatives. Yet, the precepts of the Lord remain clear; they gladden the heart. His commands are right and just. Keeping them may mean embracing a wisdom the world does not buy, as Paul suggests in the Second Reading. Those who obey the precepts are often mocked and looked on by the world as foolish. So we hear expressions as: Christianity is for the foolish, the dull and ignorant…Yet, we acclaim the Gospel today with these words: God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son, so that whoever believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. Our Faith in God must keep us at His commands.

Hence, let the zeal for the house of the Lord that consumed Jesus become zeal for the Word, for the Precept of the Lord that consumes those who buy the Divine Wisdom. Those who truly fall in this category, even when they inevitably face the destruction of their temples by the forces of this world: a world with fixed grievances against the Only Son will live for eternity. In this way, the paschal mystery Jesus is about to accomplish this Easter must remain the source of our strength as we insist on and live by the Precepts of the Lord, with our gaze fixed on the Lord, till He shows us His mercy, only the Lord alone has words of everlasting life.