Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent Year B 2015
Today we heard God speaking through Moses as he tells the Hebrew people traveling through the wilderness what he expects of them in return for his promise to them, his covenant, that they will be a great nation in a land of milk and honey. God chose the Jews, as Ogden Nash once commented:
Why the Jews? Why not some other nation? We don’t know. He just did. It wasn’t for anything they did or did not do particularly, but it was his purpose to bestow a special grace on the Hebrew nation. In return, they were expected to act in a certain way, a way not completely similar to other nations. Other nations did have law codes. We know, for example, that around this time there was a law code called the Law of Hammurabi that the Babylonians followed.
It was probably the most civilized law code of its time and had about 180 laws.
The law code that God prescribes for the Jews to follow has only ten commandments, some of them even the same as Hammurabi’s Code. The difference was that no actual punishment was attached to each commandment, they were simply to avoid doing them. Hammurabi’s code was different in that extra severe punishments were given for each law.
The first three commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationship with God. The other commandments pertain to the Jew’s relationships with each other. Although when we think of a law like “thou shalt not murder” we apply it to all people. the laws were originally taken to be for the Jewish people themselves, their neighbors being relatives and people nearby them – a moral code of conduct for getting along with your close neighbors.
Over the centuries we have extended their meanings and principles, and although most of us follow these laws today as even Jesus said we must, we are not every careful in the commandments that relate to God proper.
We get anesthetized to taking God’s name in vain with all the swearing in TV and movies today, and barely think about what we are saying when we use the name of Jesus or God in daily speech ourselves. We certainly don’t keep the Sabbath the way God seemed to intend us to keep it – even if we have moved it from Saturday to Sunday in honor of the Resurrection. Most of us do some work, and few of us find the time even to give an hour to praise and give back to God each week on Sunday. There are a million excuses and our culture doesn’t make it easy, but the truth is, it doesn’t seem important to many of us any more.
I heard a good image the other day for Sunday Mass. The person said it was like having a cell phone. The battery runs down after a while and needs recharging. Sunday Mass can be like that. It is the charger for our spiritual battery, and just like the Hebrews, when they stopped their Sunday rest, they forgot about God and all sorts of bad things resulted.
The Psalm today comments on the Ten Commandments saying that in contrast to other nations’ laws, the laws of God are perfect, and revive the soul – there is that re-charging image again. The laws are sure, right, clear, pure, true and righteous.
And although the laws are phrased in the negative – Thou shalt not… – the psalmist sees them only positively – sweeter than honey – he says, because they keep us on the right road to God.
The Gospel for the third Sunday of Lent interrupts the Mark’s Gospel we have been reading to give us a little of John’s. It is here to show us the prophecy of Jesus Resurrection – the event that we are preparing for in Lent, but I would like you to also note that the one time that Jesus gets angry that we are told about happens here as well. It happens because Jesus sees the commandments of our relationship to God being damaged. The house of God, the temple where God dwelt was considered sacred. It was where worship was held, it was where God’s name was never taken in vain, but glorified. Yet the porticos of the Temple were surrounded by trade and finance, and indeed, more emphasis was being put on the buying and selling than the worship and sacrifice itself. Jesus’ anger caused the event that did more than any other to upset the priests and Pharisees and directly led to the death he was about to suffer. So it is an important event. In some sense it was foolish of Jesus and because he gave into his human violence, it may have led to his own violent death. But Paul tells us God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” God had a plan, and that plan brought about nothing less than the salvation of all people.
So as we have to come to the middle of our Lenten preparation, let us use the commandments to help us hone our repentance, help us to review our past faults and sins, helps to pledge anew to be worthy of the grace that God has given us, to question more carefully the motives for why we do things, and resolve to give back to God even more than he asked for. Let us make this Lent a truly repentant one, a way of thanking God for all the graces he has shown us and will show us.And let us take the time, find the time, make the time to show God we care and are thankful for his gifts.
And let this be the Good News we give to God in return this week!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]