3rd Sunday of Lent – Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“The Purification of the Temple and of Religion”.
During Lent, we Christians are invited to meditate on the Law of God and to examine our consciences and to sincerely repent for our deviations to the Ten Commandments. Today’s readings tell us of the spiritual dangers of idolatry and the importance of love to our God and for one another.
The Gospel tells us about the purification of the Temple. It also announces the replacement of the old Temple by a new one. We are the new ‘Temple’; the ‘Mystical Body of Christ’ and like the old, we often require purification from all that hinders our faith and our love for God and each other.
Often we tend to be like the Jews and the Greeks; we look for Jesus in spectacular deeds and the words of worldly wisdom. A true understanding of Jesus is to be found in an unlikely place – in the mystery of the Cross.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
During Lent, the Christian is often invited to meditate on the ‘Law of God’, the “Ten Commandments”, and the explanation of these commandments are an important part of the instructions given to people preparing to receive Baptism. These short and easy to remember precepts are a summary of all that the people of Israel had been given to observe to show their love for God and for their fellow humans.
Moses had been called into the presence of God on Mount Sinai to receive the Decalogue that would serve as the grounding for their moral identity as a people, commandments that would keep them aware of God’s covenant with them. The commandments begin with a brief prefatory statement of God’s right to make demands on the people of Israel. Then follow the Ten Commandments, the first three (or four) being concerned with Israel’s relationship with God, the others with the Israelites’ relationships with one another. First the most basic command of all: “You shall have no other gods before me” (NRSV). The Israelites were to worship only the God who rescued them from slavery. They were not to make images to represent God. It was important for the Israelites to be aware that God is beyond human representation. Next come the commands about reverence for God’s name and about the observance of the Sabbath. These three (or four) initial commands would constitute the religious identity of the Israelites. They would be able to be seen as God’s people to the extent that they observed these directives. Then come the other commands that deal with the Israelites relationships with one another. Basically they call for respect and love for each other and respect for the property of others.
The Ten Commandments set forth the demands of any relationship with God. They enunciate the people’s duties toward God and toward one another. They were to be learned and constantly remembered and observed. That’s why there are ‘Ten’: so that the people could count them off on their fingers.
The Ten Commandments apply to us, too. They each provide a basis for self-examination and repentance during the season of Lent. God gave us these commandments through Moses to offer guidance on our life’s journey. The most basic and important of them all is still the first commandment, the prohibition of idolatry. Whenever we make money, material things, creatures or pleasures, or an object more important than God, we are engaging in idolatry.
Consider what goes into carving of an idol. First you have to choose a material – wood or clay, stone or metal? Then you have to find the appropriate tool to make the features, sharp or blunt. You have to decide what your god ought to look like: fierce or kind, majestic or simple, watchful or indifferent. You take great care in fashioning your idol. This will be, in the end, what you serve for a long time. The first commandment forbids the carving of idols, and it is the first commandment we learn to break. When we set our hearts on anything apart from the reign of God, we have already chosen the material for our false god. We carve it with our injustices, our hatred, our lack of love and charity, our greed and lust for things and power. No matter which features we choose, the face and features we carve invariably ends up being our own likeness.
If we obey the first commandment, obedience to the others will follow. If we disobey it, it will be all too easy to ignore the others. It is very possible that many of us who count ourselves as believers may be idolaters without realizing it. The Ten Commandments help us to foster our understanding of what is the true and good for all people. But it does not fulfil the whole law since, as Paul states: “Only love is the fulfilment of the Law” (Rom 13:10).
In the Psalm, we meditate on the qualities of God’s Law. They are really the qualities of God himself, since his commands mirror his own ideals, his values and his character. God is to be trusted; God is holy, true, and pure.
1 Corinthians 1:22-25.
The God of the Hebrew Scriptures forbade the making of images of the divine. The Gospels supplied us with the only image we need: the holy face of Jesus. Carved of flesh and blood like ourselves, the image is born into weakness and is capable of suffering and dying. It is a God that few expected. Nobody would sit down to carve such an image of divinity. No one would have ever spontaneously created a Crucifix.
This image of God was a stumbling block to the religious community in Corinth of the time, seeking the usual theophany of almighty power, of God’s strong right arm outstretched. The Gentile world, admiring human achievement, ridiculed the apparent human failure of the Cross.
When the early Church chose to preach Christ crucified, they held up a face of God that few could or would want to recognize. Yet the Cross continues to be the image of God that draws millions to worship and to praise.
Jesus finds it intolerable that the Temple, which is meant to be place of prayer, has become a market place. To turn religion into a business is an insult to God. Jesus would not allow it. When the heart of our relationship with God is at stake, no effort is too much for him. He will ensure that the poor have as much access to God as the rich.
The Temple symbolized the presence of God among his people through the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in the most sacred part of the Temple. The Temple was at times a source of easy satisfaction for the Israelites, who did not really live up to the expectations of their God. They were satisfied with merely ‘external observances’ in the Temple. Several prophets had called for its purification (Jer. 7:14; Mal. 3:1; Is. 56:7; Zac. 14:21).
At the time of Jesus, the Temple was divided into several parts. First, there was an open area where anybody could go. Then there was the Court of Women; then the Court of Men, which contained the altar where the ordinary daily sacrifices, took place. Then there was the area called the Holy (Hekhal) and finally the Holy of Holies (Debir). Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) to pray for the forgiveness for the whole sins of the nation.
As people came from distant places, they could not bring the animals needed for the sacrifice with them. The business in the outer court allowed such people to buy what they needed. But what was meant to be a help for those coming from afar became mere financial exploitation of the poor for the benefit of the unscrupulous traders and the priests. Like the prophets of old, Jesus challenges these practices with symbolic action. There can be no genuine worship of God without concern for the poor (Is. 1:12-17; Jas. 2:2-4).
This action sparks off opposition to Jesus, which intensifies as time goes by, and eventually leads to his arrest and death as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered (Jn 19:31-37). Jesus challenges any institution however sacred it might be considered to be. We too must constantly challenge and allow our own religious practices to be challenged as we draw all, rich and poor alike, closer to God and to each other.
Today the Passover is still important for both Jews and Christians alike. For Christians, it is our most important feast because we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, the One through whom our real liberation takes place and through whom entry into a new type of relationship with God is made possible (1 Cor. 5:7). Our Lenten Journey will reach its climax when we celebrate this feast on the night of the Easter Vigil.
God has chosen the foolish ones of this world to confound the wise and the prudent. For we Christians follow a ‘crucified and Resurrected Christ’, foolish to some, but to us, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … During Lent we are invited to meditate on the ‘Law of God’. The Ten Commandments seem to be a short and easy to remember summary of the precepts we need to observe in order to declare our love for God and our neighbour. Although they are short we need to fully understand what God is telling us and the extent to which these commandments must guide our actions. Let us spend some time today reflecting on God’s law and our understanding of it. Do we really understand the ‘Law of God’?
Mon. …The Catechism of the Catholic Church ‘Compendium Edition’ details approximately 91 extended explanations to the rather short Ten Commandments as given to us in the Scriptures. Make a commitment this Lent to study these statements of truth. You may very well find that you have transgressed God’s Law in more ways than one. We need to ensure that our limited personal ‘Examination of Conscience’ is not deluding us.
Tues. …During this Lent let us try to fulfil the ‘Whole Law’, as St. Paul states: “Only love is the fulfilment of the Law” (Rom 13:10).
Wed. …The Psalmist encourages us to meditate on God’s Law. God is to be trusted. God loves each one of us unconditionally. God’s forgiving is unconditional. Let us prepare ourselves for this ‘Gift of Forgiveness’ in the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’ that Christ gave to his Church. Let us unite ourselves through our sincere repentance and love to God our Father and to each other.
Thurs. …Do you recognize the crucified Christ as the ‘Face of God’ that the early Church chose to preach? It is still today and will forever be the face of our compassionate and forgiving Lord, a God that calls you to reconciliation with great and gratuitous love.
Frid. …Through the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple symbolized the presence of God among his people. Through the Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist, our Church symbolizes the presence of Christ among our community. When we enter our ‘Parish Building’, do we acknowledge with the proper reverence, Christ’s holy presence in the Tabernacle and on the Altar in the Sanctuary? Do we truly regard our Church as a ‘sacred place’ where all people might more easily reverence God’s presence, or have we reduced it to just a meeting place to meet our friends on Sunday and to catch up on the latest community news?
Sat. …Today, let us pray to the ‘Holy Spirit’ that he may lead us during this Lent into a new and committed relationship with God, and that our Lenten journey will reach its climax when we are raised to ‘New Life’ with our Resurrected Lord and Saviour.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, we pray that You grant us the ability to live up to our calling. Let us make our living honestly, spend our earnings responsibly and to share it with those who have less. Let us enjoy the possessions that we have; but may those possessions never own us. May we treat others with love and respect and not like throwaway items. When we make real commitments and promises,help us to live up to them.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.