Sunday, March 15, 2009

Destroy This Temple, And In Three Days, I Will Raise It Up!

On any given Sunday during the year, and for that matter, on weekdays, the Scripture Readings are chosen to fit in with a particular theme. That is especially obvious in Advent and during the Christmas season, where the focus is on the coming of the Messiah, and during the Lenten Season, when there is a gradual increase in intensity as we approach Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and, ultimately, the Resurrection of the Lord from death to new life.

 Think about the people of Israel, who about three months ago were freed from slavery in Egypt, and now were standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, while Moses climbed to the summit of the mountain to hear what the LORD God had to say to the people He calls His Own.
 If you pay attention to the commandments, they aren’t telling us to do anything unusual.

There is only one God in Heaven, and He is the only one you should worship. Don’t make idols in the shape of birds, or beasts or whales and fish, and worship them as if they were divine. They aren’t!

Have the utmost respect of the Name of the LORD. Be careful how you use it, not in anger as a curse, and not carelessly, as if it were meaningless.

Set one day out of every seven as a holy day, dedicated not to work but to worship. The LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in it in six days, and rested on the seventh. His people should do likewise.

 Have the utmost respect for your parents. They were God’s partners in bring you life in this world, and opening for you the gateway to eternal life.
 Don’t take your neighbor’s life.

Don’t take your neighbor’s spouse.

Don’t take your neighbor’s property.

Don’t tell lies about your neighbor.

Don’t lust after your neighbor’s house, or spouse, or manservant, or maidservant, or ox, or ass, or anything else that doesn’t belong to you.
 For three days, before Moses went up to the summit of Sinai to have his meeting with the Lord, there had been loud claps of thunder, dazzling flashes of lightning and ear-piercing thunder that sounded like heavenly trumpet blasts.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus causes the same kind of commotion with his own voice. It’s the Passover season, and folks are coming to the temple to celebrate their freedom from bondage in Egypt. Animal sacrifices were a part of that ritual, and there were always folks in the Temple courtyard selling lambs, and sheep, oxen for those who could afford them and pigeons for those who couldn’t even afford the lambs and sheep. They had every reason to be there, and it’s no wonder that the people in general, and even the disciples of Jesus were taken aback by his behavior.

He took a length of rope, fashioned into a whip, and started chasing the animals and the folks selling them out of the Temple. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”
 It wasn’t until years later, when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were putting together their accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus that it all began to make sense. It was only then that the disciples recalled the words of the Scripture, "Zeal for your house consumes me." It was only after Jesus had risen from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, that they understood the sign he was showing them that day, "Tear down this Temple and in three days I'll put it back together." He wasn’t speaking about the Temple of Solomon that had been rebuilt at least three times since the son of David first built it. He was speaking of the “temple” of another “Son of David”, the temple of his own body. It was only then that they remembered what he had said, and began to believe what had been written about him in the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as what he had said about himself.

“There are no coincidences in God’s plans”, so the saying goes. And it is certainly not coincidental that this sign of Jesus takes place in Jerusalem at the Temple at the beginning of the Paschal Season. Jesus is the Lamb, once slain, who lives forever. For Christ has ransomed us with his blood, and paid for us the price of Adam’s sin to our eternal Father. He has broken the chains of death and has risen triumphant from the grave.

But we are getting ahead of the story. This is only the Third Sunday of Lent, it will be four more weeks before the Exultet will be sung, and we will once again celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the pledge of our own rising to new life, and the promise of an eternity in Heaven with him.

Meanwhile, let us thank the Lord for the freedom he has given us, and for the boundaries he has set to guide us on our path toward him.

Let me close with a prayer of Saint Ignatius Loyola that seems to fit the theme of the day:

O Lord, receive my freedom. Take my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and all that I am I have received from You. I give it all back to You, and ask that it be governed by your Will, not mine. Give me only your love and your grace; that will be riches enough for me, and I will ask for nothing more. Amen.

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