3rd SUNDAY IN LENT (Cycle B)

Readings:
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19:8-11
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: Law and Worship: Signs of God's Love
The Law of the Sinai Covenant was God's gift of love to His covenant people.  The law that was conceived in love served as a tutor and a guide to God's people to teach them about sin and sacrifice and to set them apart as a holy people on the path to salvation.  God gave His people what we sing in today's psalm: "Lord, you have the words of everlasting life."  The people's love for God and His covenant union with them was expressed in the liturgy of right worship through the ritual of the twice daily worship service in which the people offered their sacrifices: sin sacrifices, communion sacrifices, whole burnt offerings, and the feast days' festival offerings.

In the First Reading, we recall the basic outline of divine Law in the Ten Commandments, and in the Second Reading, Jesus gives a sign of His divine authority in cleansing the Jerusalem Temple of the people's profane practice of buying and selling within the Temple precincts.  His cleansing of the holy Temple will also prepare the way for the inauguration of a new liturgy of worship "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:23) after His Resurrection, Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the New Covenant community established in the New Covenant Law that is love of God and love of neighbor.  Jesus' Body, offered in sacrifice on the altar of the Cross and raised up after three days, is the new and true sanctuary.  It is from His body that rivers of living water flow in the Spirit of grace that makes every baptized Christian a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), and forms the New Covenant people of Jesus Christ into a dwelling place of God (Eph 2:22).

Jesus' crucifixion and Resurrection will be the "sign" humanity seeks.  In the Second Reading St. Paul complains that the Jews demand specular "signs" or miracles while Greeks want "wisdom" or reason that makes everything understandable.  Paul reminds all of us that Christ crucified and resurrection is both the sign and the wisdom of God for mankind.  He is the Living Word of God who makes possible for us the gift of everlasting life

The First Reading Exodus 20:1-17 ~ The Ten Commandments
1 In those days, God delivered all these commandments: 2 "I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  3 You shall not have other gods besides me.  4 You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; 5 you shall not bow down before them or worship them.  For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; 6 but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments." 
7 "You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.  For the LORD will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain."
8 "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.  9 Six days you may labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD, your God.  No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you.  11 In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested.  That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."
12 "Honor your father and your mother, that you may have long life in the land which the LORD, your God is giving you."
13 "You shall not kill."
14 "You shall not commit adultery."
15 "You shall not steal."
16 "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,"
17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house.  You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him."

The popular English title for this series of laws is the "Ten Commandments."  In fact, the word "commandment" (mitzvah, plural = mitsvot) is not used in this passage.  The title "ten commandments" is the English translation of the Hebrew phrase 'aseret ha-devarium (see Ex 34:28, Dt 4:13 and 10:4) and literally means "The Ten Words," which the Septuagint translated into Greek as deka logoi = Decalogue (also see Hos 4:2; Jer 7:9; Ez 18:5-9; JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 107)

Don't miss the significance of the opening line:  1 In those days, God delivered all these commandments: 2 "I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slaveryIt is both the preamble identifying God the great King and the historical prologue summarizing the great King's relationship to His vassal people and His deeds on their behalf.  This statement of identity and historical summary will be repeated in Deuteronomy 5:6.  In this historical review, Yahweh bases His claim to the people's allegiance on His role as Israel's liberator from Egyptian slavery. 

The laws of the Decalogue/Ten Commandments sum up and proclaim God the King's law that His vassal people are commanded to follow.  They are an amalgamation of religious, civil (secular), and social justice obligations.  The division and numbering of the commandments varies according to various traditions but the most obvious division are the laws concern man's relationship with God and man's relationships with his fellow man.  Roman Catholics have traditionally followed the division and numbering established by St. Augustine in which the first three laws (verses 3-11) pertain to man's relationship with God and the last seven with man's relationship with humanity (verses 12-17; see the traditional list in the Catechism between #2051 and 52). 

Taken as a whole, the entire body of the Ten Commandments illustrates that man's social behavior cannot be separated from his religious conscience and obligations to God but that the one is deeply rooted in the other.  Living the whole law of the "ten words" was for the Old Covenant people of God a path to life: Keep them and put them into practice: such is Yahweh's command to you.  Stray neither to right nor to left.  Follow the whole way that Yahweh has marked for you, and you will survive to prosper and live long in the country which you are going to possess (Dt 5:32-33).  It is, however, in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ that the full meaning of the "ten words" will be revealed (CCC 2056).  The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and the Second Vatican Council confirms this teaching: The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord... the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel in every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments (Lumen Gentium 24).  Also see the list of the same Ten Commandments repeated in Dt 5:1-22.

Responsorial Psalm 19:8-11 ~ God's Laws are the Words of Life
The response is: "Lord, you have the words of everlasting life."
8 The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. 
Response:
9 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye.
Response:
10 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just.
Response:
11 They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold, sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.
Response:

This psalm is listed as another psalm of King David.  The Law of Yahweh is described using seven synonyms: perfect, trustworthy, right, clear, pure, true, and just.  The Law is a gift that is intended to bring happiness to one's life and proclaims the glory of God.  The qualities of the law bestow benefits to those who are obedient to its precepts and commandments.  In verse 9, "fear of Yahweh" is part of the law that commands man to honor and respect God and to fear offending Him.  Living the law in obedience is a greater reward than anything the material world can offer.  Faith and obedience to the Law will be rewarded by the Lord, the author of the Law who has "the words of everlasting life".

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

It is likely that Paul was writing about the two kinds of Christians that made up the New Covenant Church in the 1st century AD: Jews and Gentiles.  The first group is composed of Jewish Christians who want the spectacular in their worship services.  They are the sort who keep asking "What does the worship service show me?" and not "what am I giving to the worship service of myself."  The second group is composed of Greek culture Gentile-Christians; they are the rationalists who want analysis and insight that gives wisdom, but they do not grasp the value of the wonder of the mystery of faith that cannot be analyzed and defined. 

It is human to want proof, whether miracles that guarantee the truth of the message or a logical argument based on philosophical axioms.  This desire is not in itself reprehensible, but it is unacceptable if it becomes a condition in which the mind refuses to submit to faith and belief.  The truth is the Cross of Jesus Christ is a paradox; it is the weakness of Christ made strong in His glorious Resurrection.  St. Paul counsels that both groups need to respond with faith and understand that the "sign" and the "wisdom" are found in Christ crucified—it is a glorious manifestation ("sign") of the wisdom and the power of God for the salvation of man.

The Gospel of John 2:13-25
13 Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  14 He found in the temple area [hiero*] those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.  15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area [hieron*], with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, 16 and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."  17 His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me."  18 At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"  19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."  20 The Jews said, "This temple [naos] has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?"  21 But he was speaking about the temple [naon] of his body.  22 Therefore, when he was raided from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.  23 While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.  24 But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, 25 and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.  He himself understood it well.
Note: the Greek words hiero and hieron indicate that this was the "outer court" of the Temple area where these abuses were taking place, while the words naos and naon refer to the Sanctuary of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. 

This is the first of the three Passover Feasts mentioned in John's Gospel (see Jn 2:13; 6:4; 12:1).  Passover was one of the seven annual Sacred Feasts decreed by God at Mt. Sinai (Lev 23:5-44).  Passover was the feast that began the liturgical year and was to be celebrated yearly on the 14th of Nisan [Abib /Aviv], which corresponds to our March/April time frame (Ex 12:1; 13:4).  Sundown of the day after the Passover sacrifice began the 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread, but as was the custom in the 1st century AD, St. John' Gospel refers to the entire 8 days as "Passover." 

Jesus went up to Jerusalem...   Jerusalem is approximately 2,600 feet above sea level and is built on three mountain ridges.  God's Holy Temple was built on the mountain known as Moriah on the site when Abraham, in a test of faith, to offer his son Isaac to God as a sacrifice (Gen 22:1-2).  The Temple in Jerusalem was the only place where sacrifice could be offered and sins could be atoned—covered by the blood of a sacrificed animal, so that communion with God could be restored (Dt 12:8-12; 2 Chr 3:1).

14 He found in the temple area [herion] those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. 
These animals were sold as "clean" animals, acceptable for sacrifice.  The doves and pigeons were the sacrifices of the poor (Lev 5:7).  It was required by the Law of the Covenant that a Temple tax of a half-shekel was to be paid once a year.  Coins that bore the portraits of the Roman Emperors or other pagan portraits were not permitted to be used in paying the tax (Ex 20:4) and so moneychangers, for a profit, exchanged these coins for legal Tyrian coinage which was not stamped with an image.

15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area [herion], with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables ...
The Temple police strictly enforced the rule that no weapons or sticks were allowed in the Temple precincts.  Jesus may have taken the rushes used as bedding for the animals to fashion his whip. The area where the "market" had been set up was an outer court (herion in the Greek text) that was probably the largest court called the Court of the Gentiles.  This court was the place where the Gentile peoples were to be instructed in the Covenant of the One True God and where they could pray.  They were prohibited from any other part of the Temple precinct.  Since they had not been received into the Covenant, Gentiles could not offer sacrifice at the Temple altar or attend Temple services, but they could give acceptable sacrifices to the chief priests that could be offered on their behalf.  This was the one place where the Gentiles had the opportunity to come close to God in His Sanctuary.

16 and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." 
Perhaps because the doves were the sacrifices for the poor Jesus seems to be less harsh with the dove sellers and offers an explanation for his behavior.  Jesus is both full God and fully man.  He experienced all the human desires and conditions that we experience, but unlike us, He was not tempted to sin nor did He sin.  His anger is righteous anger.  He is angry at the profane activates that are a pollution of His Father's house.  The moneychangers and merchants are robbing Israel through their inflated exchange rates (the priests had a cut of these profits) and He is angry because the Gentiles are being robbed of the opportunity to worship, robbed of the opportunity to be instructed in the true faith, and robber of the opportunity to pray in peace without the stink and clamor of the animals and the haggling of the money-changers (CCC# 583-84).

John 2:15 should read He poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables.  The words "poured out" are significant in Scripture; this is liturgical language.  These words are used in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint translation, and the New Testament in connection with the "pouring out" of the blood of sacrifice on the altar and with the "pouring out" of God's wrath.  In this case it is the pouring out of God's wrath and this action is a prophetic sign performed by Jesus as the promised future Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:14-20.  Such a sign performed by a Prophet is called in Hebrew an ot and indicates a future fulfillment.  In this case Jesus' action signifies the Temple's destruction which took place in 70 AD, when God brought His judgment on the Old Covenant people for the rejection of the Messiah and therefore, rejection of God's Covenant of salvation.

John 2:16 should read: Make not the house of my Father a house of trade.  There is a word-play on the double use of the word "house," but Jesus is also making a very powerful statement about His identity.  He is the Messiah and He is God's Son because He calls God His "Father."  Did you notice when John the Baptist identified Jesus as "the Son of God" in John 1:24 he was not identifying Jesus as "a son of God" like David or the other Davidic kings but as God's only begotten Son (Jn 1:18; also see God's affirmation in Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22).  Jesus is affirming this claim.  The early Church father, Origen, in his Homilies on St. John writes: "And from thenceforth Jesus, the Anointed of God, always begins by reforming abuses and purifying from sin; both when he visits his Church, and when he visits the Christian soul..." (Homily on St. John, 1).

17 His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 
This is a reference to Psalms 69:9(10).  This passage expresses the suffering of the righteous who call out to God to save them from the wounds they suffer through the insults that sinners heap upon God.  The Psalms ends in a promise that God will save Zion.  Zion always refers to Israel but in the sense of a redeemed Israel, the Church.  The disciples connect this passage to Jesus' righteous anger in response to the misuse of His Father's house and the promise of Psalms 69 that He will redeem His people.

18 At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"  19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple [naon] and in three days I will raise it up."
Note: the Greek words naon/naos indicate the Sanctuary of the Temple area, which includes the Holy Place and the "inner sanctum", called the Holy of Holies.  Jesus' response is a prophetic statement of His death and resurrection.  The body of the risen Christ is one of the great symbols of Christianity (see Rev 21:22 and 1 Cor 12:12ff).  Christ's resurrected body is the focus of worship "in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:21ff), it is the shrine of the Presence of God (Jn 1:14), and it is the spiritual temple from which the living waters of salvation flow (Jn 7:37-39; 19:34; Rev chapter 22). 

In this passage Jesus is declaring His Body, Himself personally and His Body the Church, to be the true Temple!  The physical resurrection of Christ's Body is the foundation for His New Covenant people being constituted as the Temple for in receiving Christ in the Sacrament of Eucharist when our bodies become the living Temple. Christ lives in us, therefore, we are the Body because we have received the body of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11, 16-17; Eph 1:20; 2:5-6).
Jesus is challenging the Temple authorities to destroy his own body.  The irony is that they will try to "destroy" the temple of His Body when He is condemned to be crucified, and the physical Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, never to be rebuilt again (the Arab shrine the Dome of the Rock stands on the site today), while Jesus' Body will be raised from the grave in divine glory (CCC# 586 & 994).

20 The Jews said, "This temple [naos] has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?"  21 But he was speaking about the temple [naon] of his body.  22 Therefore, when he was raided from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. 
This comment in verse 20 can help us date this event.  The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus confirms that Herod the Great spent 46 years re-building the Temple.  He records that Herod began reconstruction on the Temple in 19 BC (Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.3).  That would make the date for this event the spring of AD 28 (in agreement with Luke's statement that John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministry in the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius = 28 AD). 

Ever since the Temple's rebuilding after the return from the Babylonian exile in the late 6th century BC, the Temple in Jerusalem had been an "empty house."  God had not taken possession of the Temple the way He had filled and indwelled the desert Tabernacle (Ex 40:34-45) and Solomon's Temple (1 Kng 8:10-11).  The Holy of Holies was an empty room because no Ark of the Covenant that was the dwelling place of God among His people graced its sacred space, having been removed and lost to history prior to the Babylonian's destruction of the Temple in 587/6 BC (2 Mac 2:1-8; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.4.4 & The Jewish War, 1.7.6 & 6.4.7). 

When God was at rest on His Glory Throne, He judged His Creation-Temple in the Garden of Eden, and when He found wickedness contaminating it, He cleansed it, banishing the offenders, Adam and Eve (Gen 3:24).  In this event in John's Gospel, Jesus, the Son of God, comes to the Temple on the Sabbath, He assessed the Temple, judges it as contaminated, and cleanses it by banishing the offenders.  God has returned to claim His holy house, and His presence, for the first time in centuries, is in His Temple in fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi: And suddenly there will come to the Temple the LORD whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.  Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.  But who will endure the day of his coming?  And who can stand when he appears?  For he is like the refiners fire, or like the fuller's lye.  He will sit refining and purifying and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that 5they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD (Mal 3:1-3).  He came to purify His people for a new liturgy of worship and a new temple that will be His Body united with the Body of believers that will become His New Covenant Church.

22 Therefore, when he was raided from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. 
St. John continually reminds us that much of the true meaning of what he and the other disciples witnessed was not revealed to them until after the resurrection.  It is good for us to remember that it is on the New Covenant Sabbath, Sunday, the Lord's Day, that we come to appear before God's throne of judgment to be examined, and if we are free of sin we can enter His rest in the Holy Eucharist—it is our foretaste of Heaven (Heb chapters 3-4). 

Is there an eschatological warning in this event?  The word eschatological means "last things" and can refer to God's judgment as it was visited on peoples of the earth down through Salvation History (i.e. the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, on Jerusalem and the Old Covenant for the rejection of Christ in 70 AD), as well as to God's judgment at the end of creation as we know it.  It is also good for us to remember that Jesus banished the offenders from His Father's house in a very dramatic manifestation of His righteous wrath, His fierce judgment.  In the same way on the final "Day of Judgment" Christ will return to judge the world as His Temple, and His judgment will be fierce: ...but now he has given this promise: "I am going to shake the earth once more and not only the earth but heaven as well."  The words "once more" indicate the removal of what is shaken, since these are created things, so that what is not shaken remains.  We have been given possession of an unshakeable kingdom.  Let us therefore be grateful and use our gratitude to worship God in the way that pleases him, in reverence and fear.  For our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:26-29 NJB).

23 While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.  24 But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, 25 and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.  He himself understood it well.
We miss the force of this statement in the modern translation in John 2:23-3:1.  The literal reading of this passage is: 2:24 But himself Jesus did not trust himself to them, because of his knowing all, 25 and that no need he had that any should testify concerning man, for he knew what was in man3:1 But there was a man of the Pharisees....  In the modern translation we miss the very important 3-part repetition of the word "man."  In Scripture, any repetition of 3 or mention of 3 indicates the theological importance of the next event.  Since Jesus is fully man but also fully God, Jesus can read the intentions of the hearts of men.  Here he detects deficient faith in those men who have been amazed at his signs but who fail to grasp the significance of his mission.  This perception will relate to the Pharisee Nicodemus in the next passage.  Nicodemus, whose name means "people crusher" (demos = people, nico = crusher or conqueror), is representative of such inadequate belief.  See CCC #473

And how would you categorize yourself?  Are you one who needs "signs" to bolster your faith?  St. John Chrysostom writing in the late 4th century commented that "Many people are like that.  They carry the name of faithful, but they are fickle and inconstant..." (Homilies on St. John, 23, 1).  Faith is a matter of obedience and trust.  It takes courage to have faith, but even more it takes love.  If you obediently place your love and faith in Jesus, you will never be disappointed.  St. Paul had this advice for believers: You can rely on the Lord, who will give you strength and guard you from the evil One, and we, in the Lord, have every confidence in you, that you are doing and will go on doing all that we tell you.  May the Lord turn your hearts toward the love of God and the perseverance of Christ (2 Thes 3:3-5).

Catechism References:

Exodus 20:1-17 (CCC 2056); 20:2-5 (CCC 2083); 20:2 (CCC 2061); 20:7 (CCC 2141); 20:8-10 (CCC 2167); 20:11 (CCC 2169); 20:12 (CCC 2196, 2200, 2214); 20:13 (CCC 2257); 20:14 (CCC 2330); 20:15 (CCC 2400); 20:17 (CCC456, 2513, 2533)
1 Corinthians 1:24-25 (CCC 272)
John 2:13-15 (CCC 583); 2:16-17 (CCC 584); 2:18-22 (CCC 586); 2:18 (CCC 575); 2:19-22 (CCC 994); 2:21 (CCC 586); 2:25 (CCC 473)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015