REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS FOR
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT, 04 March, 2018, CYCLE B
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 18:8-11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
For the last two Sundays, our readings have recalled God’s covenant with Noah and with Abraham. Today, in our reading from Exodus, we are with God’s people at Sinai, hearing ”the Ten Words”, God’s covenant charter between God and God’s people, whom the Eternal One has redeemed from slavery in Egypt. These Words, accompanied by the sound of thunder and trumpet, are heard for miles around, and are the prime expression of the covenant demands.
The part of Psalm 18 which we read today is a hymn in praise of Torah, the Law, given by God to give us life, in which we rejoice, as we try to respond wholeheartedly to it throughout our lives. God’s ”Ten Words” are words which sustain us and so ”are more to be desired than … the purest of gold and are sweeter than the sweetest of imaginable honeys”.
Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, who place the controversy about the Temple immediately before Jesus’ Passion, John places it at the very beginning of his ministry. It gives us a point of entry for understanding Jesus’ life – and is directly related to the cause of his death. We see here the characteristic Johannine device of having Jesus say something which others only understand at one level, giving John the opportunity of explaining the true meaning, which is on quite another level entirely. The threat of destroying and the promise of rebuilding the Temple was deeply embedded in the early Christian tradition. As was the case with the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, prophetic actions at the time of Jesus were highly dramatic ways of conveying God’s will and purpose. The deeply significant episode concerning the Temple is related to his prophetic sayings which refer to the crisis and disaster which Jerusalem and the Temple faced. In the early decades of the first century, some Jewish groups did expect that in the ”last days” God would provide a ”new temple”, thus restoring the purity of Israel. While there was certainly an element of protest in the actions of Jesus, they are better understood as a prophetic gesture against the Temple itself. In this context, it is not surprising that Jesus adopted such a radical stance. But his words and actions against the Temple may have been the immediate cause of his downfall. Jesus seems to have expected that in the ”last days”, which he believed to be imminent, the Temple would be destroyed and replaced by a new and perfect Temple, built by God. In the eyes of the Jerusalem Temple establishment, these views were provocative and outrageous. It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Temple for the religious and political life of Jerusalem. Any serious threat to it would have been opposed vigorously both by the Temple authorities and by the local inhabitants of Jerusalem. They are certainly recalled during Jesus’ trial.
The words remembered by the disciples, ”Zeal for your house will devour me” are from Psalm 68, which begins, ”Save me, O God, for the waters have risen to my neck”. It is the cry of an innocent sufferer, in deep distress and the reference to it is poignant. The passage from John has a clear reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and this is the heart of our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians today: ”Here are we preaching a crucified Christ”, proof of God’s ”foolishness” being ”wiser than human wisdom”, and God’s ”weakness” being ”stronger than human strength”.
This week’s Sunday Gospel Commentary was prepared by
Sr Margaret Shepherd, NDS, London, UK
[Copyright © 2018]
PLEASE NOTE: The weekly Gospel commentaries represent the research and creative thought of their authors, and are meant to stimulate deeper thinking about the meaning of the Sunday Scriptures. While they draw upon the study methods and sources employed by the Bat Kol Institute, the views and conclusions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Bat Kol. Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.
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