Third Sunday of Lent (B)
March 7, 2021

First Reading (Exodus 20: 1-17)

God delivered all these commandments: "I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generations; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. For the Lord will not leave unpunished the one who takes his name in vain. Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you. You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him."

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 19: 8-11)

Refrain: Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

1) The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. (Refrain)

2) The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye. (Refrain)

3) The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just. (Refrain)

4) They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold
sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb. (Refrain)

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 1: 22-25)

Brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Gospel (John 2: 13-25)

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

(Copyright 1970, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Copyright 1970, 1997, 1998 Contraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The English translation of some Psalm responses, some Alleluia and Gospel verses and the Lenten Gospel Acclamations, some Summaries, and the Titles and Conclusion of the Readings, from the Lectionary for Mass copyright 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc., Washington D.C. All rights reserved.

The poetic English translation of the sequences of the Roman Missal are taken from the Roman Missal approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, copyright 1964 by the National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL.)

Sources:

Days of the Lord, Volume 2, pp. 136-144. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN., 1993.

The Gospel of John, Volume 1, by William Barclay, pp. 105-120. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA. 1975.

The Cultural World of Jesus, by John J. Pilch, pp. 55-57. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 1996.

Bringing the Word to Life, by Michael R. Kent, pp. 29-30. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT. 1996.

The Word Encountered, by John F. Kavanaugh, pp. 41-44. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 1996.

Homily
A Voice for the Victims

There is no doubt that anger will cause us to do things that we wouldn't do otherwise. In today's gospel passage, we encounter an incident in our Lord's life when he acted very uncharacteristically.

And our passage gives us none of the background behind the seemingly innocuous verse: "In the temple precincts he came upon people engaged in selling oxen, sheep and doves, and others seated changing coins." This hardly seems like actions which would raise anyone's dander. But there is more to this practice than meets the eye.

Passover was a time when Jews from all over the known world would gather in Jerusalem. And every Jew was required to pay a Temple tax so that the daily sacrifices and rituals would continue. However, these taxes had to be paid with Jewish coins, although the Jewish travelers would arrive with coins of many countries. Therefore, these had to be exchanged for local coins before they could be used to pay the tax. For this service, the money changer was allowed to charge a fee, as permitted by the Talmud. In some cases, however, this fee was equal to a man's entire daily wage. So what enraged our Lord was not that a fee was being charged but that the amount being charged to the poor who could ill afford to pay it was exorbitant. What was happening was a great social injustice and, what was worse, it was being done in the name of religion.

And then there were the sellers of oxen, sheep and doves. Frequently a visit to the Temple meant a sacrifice. While in Jerusalem, many God-fearing Jews wished to offer thanks to God for blessings they had received with an animal sacrifice. It might therefore seem to be a natural and helpful thing that the victims for the sacrifices could be bought in the Temple court rather than being brought by the travelers from their homeland. But the law required that any animal offered in sacrifice must be perfect and unblemished. The Temple authorities had appointed inspectors to examine the victims which were to be offered. If a worshiper bought a victim outside the Temple, it was certain that it would be rejected after examination. Again that might not have mattered much, but a pair of doves could cost as little as 4 cents (or the equivalent of a man's daily wage) outside the Temple, and as much as 75 cents inside. Here again was bare-faced extortion at the expense of poor and humble pilgrims, who were practically blackmailed into buying their victims from the Temple booths if they wished to sacrifice at all--once more a glaring social injustice aggravated by the fact that it was perpetrated in the name of pure religion. It was for these reasons that our Lord was driven to such anger. (2)

But there is one thing we should note about our Lord's anger. The point I am trying to make should be even more evident if I quote from the passage in Mark's gospel which we heard just a couple of weeks ago: "Again he entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him...Then he said to them, 'Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?' But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out and his hand was restored." Contrast this passage and the events of today's gospel with this verse: "When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten." (1 Peter 2:23) In other words, our Lord was driven to anger not because it had been directed at him but because he saw injustice being inflicted on others.

Our Lord was fighting injustice in much the same way that the woman in this story did after a tragedy changed the course of her life forever.

As we noted earlier, our Lord's anger was not fueled by the anger of others which was directed at him, but rather by the injustice being done to those who could least defend themselves. So it is that Julie redirected her anger away from the one who caused her disability (which would have been futile and self-defeating anyway) and towards those who were now in a similar situation as the one in which she had been. Unlike others who had not endured what she had, she could understand fully what her clients were going through.

The lesson of today's gospel passage for us can be summed up in these well-known verses from the prophet Micah:

These were the things that the leaders of the Temple were not doing. They were not treating others justly or with kindness and were feeling totally smug in their misdeeds. If we are to follow Christ, we must seek to do justice and love kindness in all aspects of our lives: with our family members, our co-workers, our neighbors and all those with whom we interact on a daily basis. Only then will we be able to walk humbly with our God into the eternal life won for us at such a great cost.

(NOTE: After posting this homily to a chat network, I received the following e-mail:

References

1. from The Bible Illustrator, copyright 1990 - 1998 by Parsons Technology. [You can order this resource, and many others at a discount, through the Homiletic Resource Center. For more info, or to order, please click on the link above.]

2. from The Gospel of John, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. St. Andrew Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. Reprinted with permission.

3. The Victim's Voice. Reprinted with permission from PEOPLE Weekly Magazine, May 26, 1997 by Richard Jerome and Susan Christian; copyright 1997 Time Inc., New York, NY). As also reprinted in Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul, pp. 206-210, copyright 1999 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.

(Copyright 2015 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net.)

Homily
To Do Justice

In last week's liturgy, we heard about the difficult command which God made of Abraham in the reading from Genesis and of Abraham's unflinching response. If you recall, God commanded Abraham to take his first-born son Isaac up to a mountain and sacrifice him there. However, at the last possible moment, God does not permit Abraham to carry out his demand. As a result of his obedience, God makes Abraham the father of many nations. Now in his infinite wisdom, God would use his request of Abraham as an example to following generations. In essence, God could ask any of Abraham's descendants to sacrifice their first-born as a reparation (i. e., a making of amends for an injury or wrong done, an atonement or compensation) to him for our sins. I found the justification for this reasoning in a text from the book of Micah which asks the following questions:

Now in the reading from John today our Lord gets angry for one of the few times in all of the gospels. And why was that? Because he saw people being taken advantage of. Jews came to the temple at the Passover each year from all over the world where they would present offerings of animals for sacrifice or thanksgiving and pay the Temple tax, which every Jew over 19 was obliged to pay. With the cooperation of the temple administrators, the money changers and sellers could charge exorbitant rates for their services, which were almost required for an offering to be acceptable. When he saw all of these abuses going on, and the extortion being demanded in the name of religion from those who wished to pray, Jesus flew into a rage.

In addition, there were three other things about this scene which bothered Jesus: 1) there was no sense of reverence the temple worship. Today, this feeling might arise if the leaders of worship are unprepared and do not adequately facilitate the worship experience but rather hinder it. 2) Mercenary exchanges were taking place in the Court of the Gentiles, which is as far into the temple as any Gentile could go to pray without being an Israelite or priest. But praying was impossible with all the noise going on around them, which is why Mark recounts the words of Jesus in this incident as: "My Father's house is a house of prayer for all the nations". And 3) Jesus acted as he did in order to show that the sacrifice of animals to God was totally unnecessary. In this regard, we could cite verses from many of the prophets including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and the Psalms to document this fact. Here also the text from Micah which I used before is applicable. God does not demand "thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil" or even our first-born sons. Instead, God sent his only Son as a reparation for our sins in our place.

In the gospel, John goes on to say that many believed in Jesus, for they could see the signs he was performing. Now in the New Testament, there are three Greek words which are used to describe the wonderful works of God and the signs of Jesus. The first is teras, which is best translated as a trick, a slight of hand which leaves us with a sense of surprise. The second is dunamis, which means power, from which we get the word dynamite, something that is very powerful. It can be used of the power of growth, the powers of nature, or the power of the intellect to achieve a desired end. And lastly there is semeion, which means sign and which is John's favorite word. Our Lord's miracles were signs that revealed something about his character, something of his nature. They were actions through which it was possible to understand better and more fully the character of the person who did it. To John the miracles of Jesus told us something about the nature and character of God; they were proof positive that God cares for our sorrows, needs and pains, and is eager to heal, feed and comfort us.

So Jesus' miracles showed us the wonder of the teras. They show us the dunamis, or power of God, which can mend a broken body, a deranged mind, or a wounded heart. And lastly, they show us the semeion, or signs of God's love for us.

So what has our Lord's cleansing of the temple to do with us today? None of us are sacrificing animals any more, at least I hope not. But his anger is a sign to us, just as his miracles were signs of his love, that we should not confuse the means with the end. We cannot be satisfied with the number of times we have come to church, or the number of services we have attended, or the number of prayers said, or how much of the Bible we have read. They are all important means to an end, but the end we seek is what Micah goes on to say after the verses I quoted earlier:

God has shown unto you, God has shown you what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice
and to love kindness and to walk humbly, walk humbly with your God

Christ lashed out at the temple leaders because they had lost their sense of reverence, they were not leading people to prayer but putting up stumbling blocks to God for their own profit. Jesus showed once and for all that God does not want "burnt offerings, yearling calves, thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil". God asks only a pure heart, a change of heart from sin. We must "do justice", that is, treat one another fairly and appreciate them; love kindness and make it second nature. And "walk humbly with your God". We must love God because of all the good he has done for us, especially in dying for us. This is a topic we will pick up next week as we consider that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life." And as we prepare for the great feast of Easter, we need to look into our hearts and make sure that we are not giving God mere lip service, that we haven't mistaken the means for the end. That we truly love him and demonstrate that love by our love for one another.

(Copyright 2012 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at deaconsil@comcast.net.)

Third Sunday of Lent (B)

March 7, 2021

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, you are power and wisdom of God. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you defend the poor and hear their cries for help. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you will raise us up with you on the last day. Lord, have mercy.

Third Sunday of Lent (B)

March 7, 2021
Prayers of the Faithful

Celebrant: In our gospel passage, our Lord came to the defense of those who could least afford to pay the unreasonable demands of the temple leaders. Therefore, confident that he will hear us in our need, we bring our prayers and petitions before him.

Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".

That the leaders of the Church will always be consumed with zeal for the house of the Lord, we pray to the Lord.

That the leaders of the nations of the world will treat all of those entrusted to their care with justice and respect, we pray to the Lord.

That the sick, the terminally ill and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one may find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.

That the Elect, their families and their sponsors will come to a deeper appreciation of the meaning of the Gospel in their lives, we pray to the Lord.

That the members of our parish community will be spiritually renewed during this Lenten season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we pray to the Lord.

That all of our brothers and sisters will be treated as our equals in the sight of God regardless of their race, color, nationality or religion, we pray to the Lord.

That all of those who have contracted the Corona virus will be healed, that those who have died will be welcomed into the loving arms of their Savior who suffered for them and that their grieving families will find strength in their faith, we pray to the Lord.

For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.

Celebrant: Merciful Father, you sent your Son to become one like us to show us your compassion for the poor and the oppressed. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to always be a voice for the homeless, the abused and those who have no one to defend them. Grant this through Christ, our Lord.