Today in our first reading from the book of Exodus we hear the story of the ten commandments. What goes before the ten commandments are years of God’s faithful love and care for the people of Israel. The people of Israel remembered the stories of creation, the fact that God chose them, saved them and led them out of slavery. Today, God highlights what a faithful response to love looks like. The ten commandments are not so much a moral code as they are the response of people who have been loved, chosen, cared for by a faithful God.
In the Gospel reading, John tells us about the chaos that is happening in the temple at Passover. The temple which is the holy place of the People of Israel has been overtaken by people who have little regard for its holiness. It would seem that for these people making money is what is important; the sacred rituals that are taking place have little or no meaning. Jesus clears out the temple, which is a rather shocking display of anger for him. Our attention can get caught here at this unusual display of anger and we can perhaps miss the bigger point of this story. Jesus is the temple. After his death and resurrection, the disciples recalled his words and his actions – they recall his claim that his Body is the temple – the building while important is not it!
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we hear Paul remind the Corinthians of the wisdom to be found in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Crucified Lord is indeed Lord. His death while sad and tragic on the one hand is the best thing that has happened because it has brought life to all. This might sound foolish but it is real and Jesus is the very power of God. We can see it and we can touch it and it can transform our lives. Paul is clear, Christ is the manifestation of God’s power and wisdom.
Congruent – the word means in agreement or harmony – identical. One of the biggest critiques leveled at religious people is this: we are not congruent. We say one thing and we do another.
So often when we do catechesis in the Church we give people information about the dos and don’ts of being Catholic. We get excited when the people we have been teaching are able to share with us all that we have told them. Faith is not first and foremost about information – it is about a relationship. Our first task when people come seeking us out is to help them establish a relationship with the community – the people of God and then help them strengthen their relationship with God. Sadly, many people do not want relationships with Church people or with God – they want what they have asked for – a sacrament, a ritual and the relationship does not matter. Nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus – relationships must come first.
Today, the ten commandments make sense as a response to a God who has gathered a people together. The People of Israel had a relationship with God. If we see the ten commandments as a moral code we are missing the mark. Following the ten commandments is a response to a God who loves us, with whom we have a relationship.
The challenge of the gospel today is to realize that God dwells not in buildings but in people – the people are important. Jesus cleans up the temple but then reminds the people that he is the real temple. As people we bear in our bodies the very life of God. While Churches and sacred things are important – people are more important. While it is good and proper to honor God present in our Church it is equally important for us to treat one another with respect – and not just the people we like or who do things the way we want or the people who are nice.
As the season of Lent unfolds we will affirm our belief in God over and over and over again. We will engage in prayers and rituals. We will fast and give alms and do penance. All of these activities lead us to change; to be more like Christ.
This week, I invite each of us and all of us to choose one person who really annoys us. Could be ourselves – could be a family member or a co-worker, could be a community figure, Church person, a leader/politician or celebrity. I invite us to see that person as made in the image and likeness of God.
Let us nurture ways to demonstrate our love and respect for them. We don’t love and respect people because we like them, we love and respect people because we are made in the image and likeness of God. We don’t love and respect people because they are perfect, we love and respect people because they are made in the image and likeness of God.
Heather McGhee, an American writer has just authored a book entitled, "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together" which takes a look at race in the United States. In the book she tells the story of how in the early part of the 20thcentury, city councils had swimming pools constructed, as a way of nurturing civic pride and giving people a chance to enjoy themselves. The problem was, they were for whites only. When laws changed and people of color were allowed to use the swimming pools many cities either sold their pools to private groups or shut them down rather than have people of color enjoy what they themselves enjoyed. Their attitude was simple, if people of color gain something we lose something. The scriptures today challenge that idea.
To be congruent, if we stand in here and say we love God, then we must go out there and love the people God loves. Is it easy to do? Not at all, but because of our history with God we do this. We know God has created us and redeemed us. We are grateful and so we honor this God who challenges us to be witnesses of love and generosity.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI