March 7, 2021, The Third Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)
The tie in between today’s readings: Being in an Exclusive Relationship.
In the book of Exodus, we see that God loves His children like a mother loves a child. The ten plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, they were only the beginning; the labor pains, if you will, needed to bring His children into the world. Once delivered, God provided the necessities of life for them with manna from heaven (Exodus 16) and water from the Rock (Exodus 17). In our reading today in Exodus 20:1-17, the Lord leads His offspring nation onto the next stage of their development at Mt. Sinai, where they will receive the Ten Commandments. There begins the daunting task every good parent undertakes: teaching their toddler right from wrong. So, as any of us would do, He starts out with the word “No”.
“No murder! No adultery! No stealing! No lying! No envying! You will not disrespect your father or mother and likewise, you will not disrespect Me! Consequently, you will not take My name in vain nor work on the Sabbath, and you absolutely will not serve other deities! I, the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, am jealous for you.” In retrospect, these laws were not new. Nations before Israel had more or less the same codes that underpinned their cultures. They understood that these rules corral our cravings and protect us from each other. All well and good, but God is looking for more than mere compliance. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want to keep constantly slapping fingers saying, “No, No. No!” When God says that He is jealous, He means that He wants to be in an exclusive, loving relationship with us. We need to mature to be like the person in Psalm 19:8-11 who recognizes that these tablets of stone can lead us to a happy life with Him.
The Psalmist in today’s reading understands that the precepts of the Lord are good, joyful, pure, and full of insight. He embraces them because he knows that the payoff of living a holy life is priceless. Being sinners by nature, it’s hard for us to understand this man’s passion for God’s regulations. I mean, the essence of sin is that I want my choices over God’s. We struggle against Him daily. That’s the whole point! The man in today’s reading internalizes God’s law because he has been changed by the Holy Spirit. A Spirit filled person has the Holy nature within Him. The love of neighbor and God, which fulfills the Law, become part of his personality. He is more than a “good” person. He is in communion with the Almighty. God is not only jealous for him, but he has become jealous for God as well. It is a good jealousy generated among those who love each other.
In today’s gospel reading (John 2:13-25), Jesus has had enough with the thieving and contemptuous Temple authorities taking advantage of the pilgrim worshippers. His jealous zeal for God’s house spurs Him to action! Cracking a makeshift whip, He plows into merchants and money changers alike. Tables flipping! Coins scattering! Voices shouting! Men running! Jesus blows through these desecrators like a Kansas tornado. When all had settled down, the Jews confront Him with a “Who do you think you are?” tirade. Jesus leaves everyone stunned and perplexed with His answer, “You’ll find out when I destroy this temple and raise it up in three days.” This statement will come up years later at His illegal trial before the Sanhedrin. They condemn Him…have Him crucified…He dies. By this, his enemies unwittingly provide the means for the proof they demanded for His Sanctuary purge when Christ’s resurrects bodily three days later. Remembering His words, the disciples put 2 + 2 together and realize that Jesus, as well as all true believers, are walking, talking temples of the living God. The question is: What makes a true believer?
John 2:23-25 gives us an interesting aside in our gospel. During this time, many “believed” when they saw His miracles. Christ, who knows both hearts and motives, was skeptical. In fact, Jesus lost a good many “believing followers” throughout His ministry for the simple reason that they couldn’t handle the Truth. That’s because, from man’s perspective, faith in Christ comes from a personal judgement about Christ. Our reading in 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 tells us that “Jews look for miracles, Greeks seek wisdom.” Neither come to faith. The Jews see no manifestations from God in a crucified Jesus and the Greeks think a dead Christ is a joke. However, God calls. Some hear and answer back. Faith is born and the message of the cross becomes wiser and more miraculous than anything on earth.
So, here’s the thing: faith…salvation…holy living are all God initiated. The Lord who wants to share Himself calls out to anyone who would hear and enter into an exclusive relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. When you take Him up on His offer, your heavenly Father will lead and parent you in His ways. The Holy Spirit will live in you to give you the will with the grace to complete the good works that God has already prepared for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). You will become His living temple here on earth. All this and heaven too is yours for the asking. The jealous God of creation wants to be with you forever. Do you want Him? Say, yes! You will be the envy of the universe.