March 7, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ cleansing the Temple 
from Expulsion of the Money-Changers...

I am in charge here! I give the orders. Is that clear?

Even if I really believed that, I would be well advised not to say it out loud. But let’s suppose I came into your home or place of work and said the same thing. It wouldn’t be long before somebody said, “And just who do you think you are?”

In giving the Ten Commandments, God seems to have anticipated that very question. So he begins by stating, clearly and emphatically, just who he is: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” And in case you missed it the first time, he says, three verses later, “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.” The commandments that follow are really, really important, but these statements of who God is are more important still. They are the foundation of all the rest. Why not kill? Because I say so, and I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Why not steal, why not bear false witness, and all the rest? Because I say so, and I am the Lord your God.

God proves his authority by referring to the great sign of his having liberated his people from slavery, which in turn evokes all the signs and wonders he worked through Moses in the land of Egypt, and the passing through the Red Sea.

St. Paul writes, “Jews demand signs.” We see this in today’s Gospel. “What sign can you show us for doing this?” means, “Just who do you think you are? By what right have you done this? Prove that you have the authority.”

In the Old Testament, proof often took the form of a contest. Victory would be the sign of God’s choice. Think of David and Goliath. Think of Elijah calling down fire from heaven. No room here for doubt about whom God has given his authority and power to. No more “Who do you think you are?”

Greeks, that is, the Gentile world, on the other hand, “look for wisdom.” The contest is between minds, a battle of wits, if you like. We find this approach rarely, if ever, in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it shows up occasionally in Matthew, Mark and Luke, in Jesus’ debates with the Scribes and Pharisees, where he trips them up on their own words.

John’s Gospel is a different matter. Logic is rarely appealed to, and here and there it seems seriously lacking by modern standards. Jesus’ answer to his critics in today’s account of the “cleansing” of the Temple is a good illustration. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This could be understood only by his disciples, and even then only in hindsight, and was hardly effective for the purpose in the moment. The actual action of Jesus in casting out the sellers and animals was also a sign in itself, but again intelligible only to his disciples.

St. Paul goes on to write: “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” The only “sign” we have is the sign of the Cross. But it doesn’t work, it’s not the right sign at all for a Jewish audience. The humiliating defeat of crucifixion—what kind of sign is that? And for the Gentile audience it’s no better. There’s no logic here, just nonsense, foolishness. Is that the best you can do?

Only the faith of “those who are called,” can get past the “stumbling block” and the “foolishness.”

Those who demand signs say, “Force me to believe.” Those who look for wisdom say, “Prove it to me.”

But here we are, with Christ crucified as our most powerful sign and most eloquent wisdom. And just who do you think he is?

The answer to that question really matters, because it also says who Christ crucified is in relation to you: Lord and servant? Savior and sinner? Redeemer and redeemed? Teacher and disciple? It’s not a multiple choice quiz, but the correct answer is: All of the above.  And more!

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