3rd Sunday of Lent ~ 7 March 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Exodus 20:1-17; Responsorial: Psalm 19; II: I Corinthians 1:22-25; Gospel: John 2:13-25

A Tree of Life ~ An olive tree over 2000 years old and still bearing fruit.

An ancient olive tree in the mideast, considered by arborists to be well over 2000 years old, illustrates what is a lesson from the seemingly diverse readings for our Mass this Sunday. As we consider the storms and blessings of life this tree has persevered in the purpose for which it was created by God and by the people that first planted and cared for it who are now long gone. But the fruit of their labors continue. Our lives are created for the same dynamics of life. We are created, intended to be planted, deeply rooted in God’s Words of life and then to persevere through good and bad, to be fruitful for God.

The Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus focuses upon the Ten Commandments. The Gospel reading from John shares the account of Jesus cleansing the temple and His promise to restore the temple in three days. What, if any, is the connection between these two readings?

In thinking of the Ten Commandments it is not unusual to have images of a Charlton Heston-type Moses sternly receiving and giving these commandments to the people of God. Further tradition and concepts often frame these precious Words from God in rigid negatives and distinctly pious affirmations of holiness. It has long been the intent of the enemy of our souls and of God to rob us of the paramount truth and power of these words. For they are words of life written by the by the same hand that would one day be crucified for the forgiveness and mercy needed for their fulfillment. This brings us to the Gospel account of the Temple in Jerusalem being cleansed by Jesus.

It is interesting to note that the account of this cleansing occurs very early in John’s Gospel while in the three synoptic Gospels it occurs late, before our Lord’s Passion. Is this an indication of error in Scripture? Did Jesus cleanse the temple more than once? It is, I believe, rich evidence that all of God’s Word (from Genesis through Revelation) is…God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It also reminds us that Scripture is NOT an historical text in a purely literal, chronological sense. It contains history, indeed, of God’s working with humanity but as a spiritual history. I sense John, being inspired by the Holy Spirit some 90 years after our Lord’s Ascension, chose to insert this event early in this Gospel as an emphasis of this spiritual work of cleansing he had come to share. The use of this Gospel also illustrates a vital truth from our New Testament, second, reading. The Jews seek signs (of power) and the Greeks seek wisdom, or understanding. St. Paul goes on to emphasize Jesus is all power and wisdom. This brings us to the correlation of these two gems of Scripture.

Detail from the Sistine Chapel ~ God creating Adam

When we look to the Ten Commandments we need to see more than “do’s and don’ts”. It is a message of God, our Creator seeking to show us the ways of LIFE in our RELATIONSHIP with God and with His creation. As the hand of God wrote on the tablets of stone so our Lord would seek to touch and write in our hearts and lives His ways of truth and life. As the ancient olive tree teaches it shows us the need to be deeply rooted in the Truth, not of words and passing understanding, but the Truth who is God. We need to be deeply rooted AND GROWING in God.

As we look more closely at the cleansing of the Temple it is a message of our holy God, in fervent love longing to cleanse us of all the junk we may allow to clutter His holy temple, our bodies, our souls, our lives. Where there should be prayer and a simple close holding of His holy hand there is often found greed, pride and worldly lusts. And it is that same hand that made the scourge and routed the false commerce of worldly power and wisdom that would cleanse us as well. For the same hands that wrote on the stone, that would be pierced by the nails longs only to hold us close to His healing holy heart. This is a season to seek and allow our RELATIONSHIP with God and each other to grow beyond our fears, judgmental understandings, doubts, and wounds. It is a season to allow our Lord to draw us close and to bring us to realize in ways we may have never expected the living truth from our responsorial psalm: “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life. The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul…They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold.”

“In every act we do, in every step we take, let our hand trace the Lord’s Cross.” ~ St Jerome