Third Sunday in Lent

The lifestyle that God shows his people promotes their thriving in liberation from slavery, as the opening of the Ten Commandments in today’s first reading emphasizes. Psalm 19 celebrates the truth of God’s instruction as embodied even in nature, while Paul insists in the reading from the First Epistle to the Corinthians that even sophisticated human knowledge is sometimes very different from the wisdom that God conveys in Christ. The Gospel reading of the day portrays Jesus defending the Temple in opposition to those who would exploit it for their own advantage.

The First Reading
Exodus 20:1-17
The Commandments

After the Exodus, God led the Israelites through the wilderness to Mount Sinai. The Book of Exodus presents God’s revelation there as “the Book of the Covenant.” It opens with God’s reminder of the mighty act of the Exodus and a description of how Israel shall begin to live as God’s own people.

God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the state of slavery. You shall not have any other gods in place of me. You shall not make yourself a statue or any form of what is in heaven above or on the earth below, nor of what is in the water under the earth. You shall neither bow to them nor worship them, for I am the Lord, your God—a God demanding loyalty: bringing the guilt of ancestors to bear on the second, third, and fourth generations of those who hate me, while renewing loyalty to thousands, to those who love me and hold to my commandments. You shall not take up the name of the Lord your God for no good reason.

Remember the Day of Rest, to dedicate it to God. Six days you shall work and do all your business. The seventh day is a rest for the Lord your God: you shall not do any business—you or your son or your daughter, your male or female servant or your livestock or the temporary residents in your city. Since in six days God fashioned the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and settled back on the seventh day, God blessed the Day of Rest and set it apart.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days will stretch out on the land the Lord your God gives you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not betray your marriage.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony about your neighbor.

You shall not yearn for your neighbor’s house.

You shall not yearn for your neighbor’s wife or male or female servant or ox or donkey or anything that is your neighbor’s.

The Psalm
Psalm 19
God’s Instruction Is Truth

Psalm 19’s three sections are tightly connected. The natural world proclaims God’s greatness (verses 1-6). This greatness is represented in God’s precepts, which define how people must live so as to bring joy and wholeness to their lives (verses 7-11). With this truth in mind, the psalmist prays for God’s compassion, hoping that God will discount inadvertent sin and keep the petitioner from all transgression.

To the director, a psalm of David.
  1. The skies tell God’s glory;
         the firmament declares God’s handiwork.
  2. Day to day pours forth speech;
         night to night declares knowledge.
  3. There is no perceptible speech and no distinguishable words;
         their voice is not audibly heard.
  4. But their measure goes out across the entire world,
         and their words to the ends of the earth.
         In them God set up a tent for the sun—
  5.      like a bridegroom who leaves his dressing chamber,
         joyous as a champion running a course.
  6. Its starting point is the edge of the skies,
         and its rounds take it to the other side.
         Nothing is veiled from its heat.
  7. The instruction of the Lord is flawless,
         restoring the soul.
    The testimony of the Lord is trustworthy,
         giving wisdom to the simple.
  8. The precepts of the Lord are upright,
         gladdening the heart.
    The commandment of the Lord is perfect,
         giving light to the eyes.
  9. Reverence for the Lord is pure,
         established evermore.
    The judgments of the Lord are truth,
         entirely just—
  10. more desirable than gold,
         than much fine gold;
    and sweeter than honey,
         than what flows from the honeycomb.
  11. Certainly, whoever worships you is guided by them;
         observing them brings much return.
  12. But inadvertent errors—can we discern them?
         Of such hidden errors, hold me guiltless!
  13. Please, from willful error, shield the one who worships you.
         May such errors not dominate me!
    Thus I will be blameless
         and innocent of great transgression.
  14. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be desirable to you, Lord, my
    rock and my redeemer.

The Second Reading
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Christ as the Wisdom of God

Attacks by local philosophers in Corinth who mocked the new faith proved especially disturbing to the Apostle Paul. Paul responded to them with a blistering comparison between their pretentious claims and God’s wisdom. He understood Christ’s cross as the true reflection of God’s wisdom, although his opponents dismissed this preaching as foolishness. The opponents included both “Greeks,” or non-Jews, and Jewshere referring to the people of Israel and not only Judeans.

For those whose lives are being lost, the idea of the cross is foolishness; but for those who are being rescued, it is God’s power. After all, it is written: “I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and invalidate the intellectuals’ understanding.” Where is today’s sage, where is today’s judge, where is today’s advocate? God has made the wisdom of this world foolish! Since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God by means of its own wisdom, God decided, by means of the foolishness of what we preach, to rescue those who have faith. While Jews want signs and Greeks seek wisdom, we preach the crucified Anointed One—a snare for Jews and foolishness for gentiles; but for those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the Anointed is God’s power and God’s wisdom.

The Gospel
John 2:13-22
Jesus Clears the Temple

John’s Gospel, unlike the first three Gospels, relates Jesus’ action in the Temple near the beginning of its narrative. By telling the story early on and not in connection with the Crucifixion, John uses it to characterize Jesus and his teachings as a replacement for the Temple and an alternative to all forms of worship practice that the gospel writer viewed as commercially exploitative.

The Passover of the Judeans was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple precinct he found sellers of cattle, sheep, and pigeons, as well as comfortably seated convertors of coins. From cords he made a whip and drove them all out of the Temple precinct, together with the sheep and cattle, and swept away the coins of the money-changers, overturning the tables. He said to the pigeon-sellers, “Take all this away: do not make my Father’s house a marketplace.” His students recalled that it is written: “Indignation for your house will consume me.” The Judeans objected and said to him, “What sign are you showing us by doing this?” Jesus replied and said, “Take this Temple down, and in three days I will raise it.” Then the Judeans said, “This Temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you can raise it in three days?” Yet he spoke of the temple of his body. When he was raised from the dead, his students remembered that he said this and had faith in the Scripture and in the word that Jesus spoke.

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