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Jesus’ Victory Is For Eternity

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Third Sunday of Lent)

“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,” says the Lord. The command is the first of the commandments. When God speaks these words, He does so with the reminder that He is the God who saves and delivers. He is the God who freed His people from slavery in Egypt. He is the God who loves and has mercy. The commandments which follow are all laid upon the foundation that He, and He alone, is God.

The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy is the cleansing of the Temple. In this account we see Jesus keeping this commandment in love of the Father. As he looks out into the Temple courtyard and sees all the commotion, the selling of animals for sacrifice, the activity of the money-changers; he sees a corruption of the Father’s house. He is not making a critique of the sacrifices but rather all the activity that surrounded it. The activity almost became idolatry. Perhaps He saw all this as “other gods.” His zeal for the Father is unleased as He cleanses that holy place. He remembers the faithfulness of God to His people and is scandalized by the mockery present.

The love of Jesus for the Father, His faithfulness and trust in the Father will have its greatest challenge in the passion. At the end of today’s gospel reading, there is the curious line, “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.” Jesus knows the fickleness of human behavior, the whims that affect so many, and the winds that can turn crowds into a storm. That storm will be unleased upon Him as the events of the passion unfold. He is aware of this as speaks to the crowds: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

The extent of Jesus’ faithfulness is troublesome for some today – as it was in His time on earth, as it has been through history since. Some look upon the cross and see torment, persecution, suffering and death. “How could a God of love, a good God, a merciful God allow that to happen?,” they might ask. Others will look upon the cross and see love, faithfulness, mercy and victory. These might ask: “How could the God of love, the good God, the merciful God not allow that to happen?” Saint Paul addresses the situation in the second reading (from First Corinthians) when he writes:

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.

God’s faithfulness to Israel, his faithfulness to all his people is, in a sense beyond our understanding. We, as finite, frail and imperfect beings cannot grasp the magnitude of pure and perfect love. Jesus’ love, even unto suffering and death, manifests the depth of God’s love. As we saw last week, the Father only demanded a test from Abraham (in reference to the sacrifice of Isaac), but for Himself he offers His Son. His love is so complete that he does not eradicate human freedom but embraces the human condition including human suffering. The words of Isaiah may come to mind: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, no are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8)

As we continue to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem during these days of Lent, perhaps we might reflect on our faithfulness to God in keeping His commandments. The penitential aspect of the season affords us this time of reflection. Jesus shows us faithfulness – even in the midst of such strenuous opposition. We might ask ourselves, Do I allow people, activities, or responsibilities to supersede my fidelity to God? To what extent do I accept His love? Do I recognize that love and offer thanks? Am I faithful to His commandments? Is my worship authentic and sincere? These and similar questions based on the ten commandments are helpful when we make an examination of conscience. The God who delivered Israel from slavery is the same God who delivers all humanity from sin and death. When we turn to God with contrite heart, He cleanses, purifies and heals us.

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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