Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent

Today, I want to write on all four readings from yesterday. Last Monday, I gave a Bible Study on the readings we heard yesterday (well I didn’t hear them since I attended the Maronite Rite yesterday and the readings are different). Before I explain the readings, I will  give a short catechesis on the books that the readings come from so you have a “basic” understanding of these books.

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17

The book of Exodus is the second book in the Pentateuch (five books). It’s traditionally thought to be written by Moses. The word – exodus – means “departure.”  There are two major themes in Exodus: the God of Israel brings Israel out of slavery and God reveals himself (theophany) to Moses at Mount Sinai. Exodus picks up where Genesis leaves off and we get – the life of Moses, the Burning Bush, 10 Plagues, Death of the First Born, Israel departs, Crossing of the Red Sea, God establishes Covenant with Moses and Israel, 10 Commandments, Golden Calf, Levitical Priesthood, building of the sanctuary and ark of the covenant. The Covenant is established between God and Moses. The Ten Commandments is the concrete law between God and Israelites. 

The Ten Commandments are often known as the Decalogue (“ten words”). They are revealed to Moses by God (the LORD) and are found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5-6:22. The Ten Commandments are given to the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19-24). When Jesus says he will fulfill the Law and Prophets and not abolish them, it’s these laws he speaks of in Matthew 5:17. Jesus speaks very highly in a variety of places in the Gospels on how important the Commandments remain. The Catholic Church has always viewed the Ten Commandments with high honor and respect. They are to be kept with diligence and are not options, advice, suggestions, or psychological babble. They are important – they are TEN COMMANDMENTS!

The Ten Commandments are printed on the very heart of man (natural law) and they display for us how to love God and our neighbor. They were written on stone to signify that they are as durable as stone. The Commandments were written for all of humanity for all time. The Natural Law remains constant and never changes to “fit” the culture. The Natural law is about preserving life, developing as individuals & communities, and sharing life with others.  If you read the Commandments, you will see these three themes rooted in the Law.  Although these laws are held with praise, the Old Law does not give us grace. The Ten Commandments find their fulfillment in the New Law of Love – Jesus Christ and the Beatitudes. It’s Christ himself that sheds grace upon us.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, and 11

The Psalms are right in the center of the Bible and there are 150 psalms. There are different genres of psalms: Hymns of Praise, Lamentation and Deliverance, Thanksgiving, Royal Psalms, Wisdom Psalms, and other Liturgical, Prophetic, and Historical Psalms.

Psalm 19 is in Book 1. It’s an individual lament by David. He is giving praise for God’s creation and the Law. Part 1 of this psalm is praising God for the Sun (creation) and part 2 is praising God for the Law. The psalm is suggesting that the Law of God is like the sun. Just as the sun gives us illumination, so does the Law. The forms of the law that mentioned are law, precepts, and commandments. The qualities that are associated with the forms of the law are perfection, reliability and purity. Then we have the benefits that the law brings humanity and these are life, wisdom, joy, and light.

In verse 9, we read the “fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is not being afraid of God (not fear as in I am afraid of what the NY Yankees will do the Boston Red Sox this season with Bobby Valentine as manager…Ha ha… you will see more Baseball references from me until October) but it means we should be in awe of God. God deserves our respect and honor for he is our creator and we adore him above all. The person who keeps the Law will honor God just as the earth benefits from the heat and light of the sun. In verse 11, there is a reward in keeping the Law, since it’s very easy to break the law without realizing it and nothing escapes the judgment of God. God always knows what we are doing.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

1 Corinthians was written by the St. Paul (Apostle to the Gentiles). He says it twice himself in 1:1 and 16:21. The Early Church Father, St. Clement of Rome (95 A.D.) supports the claim as well. It was written in 56 A.D. on his third missionary journey while in Ephesus. The Corinthian church was founded in 51 A.D by St. Paul. Ephesus is the city where the Apostle John and Mary go after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. Ephesus is located in modern day Turkey.

Corinth was a large metropolitan. It was a cosmopolitan city that also was a seaport that attracted many entrepreneurs, tourists, sailors, and tradesmen. However, being that it was this type of city it was filled decadence and sin. Imagine Las Vegas on the water. 1 Corinthians speaks of many of the same issues that Church has faced throughout her generations and we still see today: internal divisions, sexual immorality, denials of the Resurrection, and carelessness in the liturgy. St. Paul calls them back to basic Christian doctrine (hmmm..sound familiar?). St. Paul is stern yet a loving father with these issues.

In Verse 22, it speaks of the Jews and the Greeks since Israel was always looking for great signs to authentic the Messiah’s mission (Mt 16:1, Jn 6:30) and Greeks as philosophers were always looking for the hot new thing to explain the universe (wisdom).  Verse 23 says, “we preach Christ crucified.” For some Jews, crucifixion was associated with the curse of God (Dt 21:22-23). Christ endured this curse of death so that both Israel and Gentiles could have a new life.

Gospel Reading: John 2:13-25

The Gospel was written by St. John the Apostle. Known in the Gospel as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” or the “beloved disciple.” The Gospel was more than likely written in 90 A.D. when John was an old man. It was written in Greek but with an Aramaic influence to both Jews and Jewish Christians. The theme of the Gospel is: Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah who was promised by God to the Old Testament and he is the Son of God the Father. The Gospel of John compliments the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In this Gospel, Jesus says, “I am” 54 times. It’s here where we hear the many great names for Jesus – I am Sheep Gate, I am Bread of Life, I am Vine, I am the Good Shepherd and many more. There is also a sacramental approach in John. He focuses heavily on the Eucharist, Baptism, and Reconciliation. The important Bread of Life Discourse (John 6) is read here as well. John 6 correlates perfectly when Jesus establishes for us the New Covenant in Luke 22.

In Verse 13, we read that it was the Passover. The Passover was celebrated every spring to commemorate Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt. We see in John the Passover celebrated 3 times. This is how we know Jesus ministry lasted three years. The Synoptic Gospels mention the Passover only once.  The Cleansing of the Temple is mentioned in all four Gospels, but John places it at the beginning while the synoptic Gospels place it at the end. It’s the same event in all four Gospels but John is trying to show the same thing with the Wedding Feast of Cana. The New Covenant is coming to fulfill the Old covenant. It’s a strong theological point!  There is also the chance that Jesus might have cleansed the temple twice (Read the Old Testament – The Israelites tend to disobey over and over again).

The Jerusalem Temple was divided into four sections (Gentile Court, Women’s Court, Men’s Court, and the Levitical Court). The Cleansing of the Temple is happening in the court where Gentiles were welcomed, since this was the only place in the Temple complex they could worship. Jesus is angry (verse 17 – righteous anger) because the merchants are cheating the people of the items they are selling. The city of Jerusalem had a large pilgrimage economy. Instead of bringing the animals for sacrifice from home, one could purchase the animals for sacrifice in Jerusalem. It’s similar to city of Rome today who has a pilgrimage economy. Jesus is also upset that the merchants are not allowing the Gentiles to pray and worship since they are in that part of the Temple.

In verse 15, we read of the aggressive actions of Jesus. These actions show us that the sacrifices of the Old covenant would be destroyed and no longer occur in the Temple. Jesus Christ, on the cross, would destroy all of these old covenant sacrifices with the one perfect sacrifice.

In verse 19, it’s not the sacred building that would be destroyed in 3 days, but he was referring to his body. The Jews thought that this Temple (the Temple built after the return from exile and renovated by Herod the Great) was the fulfillment of the Solomonic Temple in 1 Kings 8.

To understand Jesus as the New Temple, I give you this explanation. In the Levitical Court of the Temple, the lambs were sacrificed. To clear out the blood, the priests would flush it out with water. On the side of the Temple, there was a drain that would pour into the Gihon River. The blood of the lambs and the water would pour out of this drain together. This points to our Lord on the Cross-when the blood and water would pour forth from the side of Him on the Cross. Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the Solomonic Temple. Jesus is the New Temple on the Cross!

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed explaining it to you. Don’t forget to follow the blog to receive email notifications when I post.

Psalm 51 – Have Mercy on Me, O God…

Now that we are officially into the season of Lent, I wanted to write on something that would be beneficial to this Lenten season and really anytime we have sinned and are seeking forgiveness. As I was praying before Mass on Ash Wednesday, my next blog post was on my mind. I opened up my Daily Roman Missal and read that Psalm 51 was going to be the Psalm for the day and the two days to follow.

Honestly, I love this psalm! It’s by far one my favorite psalms in the Psalter. This psalm was always a favorite of mine, but after taking a class in graduate school on the Psalms with Dr. John Bergsma, this scripture text became even more fruitful for me. It’s the perfect psalm to begin the Lenten Season since its focus is on repentance and forgiveness.

Psalm 51, the Miserere, is one of the most popular psalms in the Psalter (prayed every Friday in the Liturgy of the Hours), yet it is also one of the most difficult psalms to pray because of it’s nature – it’s a song about sin and asking for forgiveness. It’s a prayer that focuses on guilt and God’s grace. I don’t know about you, but these are topics I tend to avoid because it’s hard to admit at times my own faults and sins.

Over the centuries, this psalm has been on the lips of many Jews and Christians seeking repentance for their sins, but historically, this psalm was more than likely composed by King David after he committed the sin of carnal knowledge with Bathsheba (the prophet Nathan called him out). In Psalm 51, we see David as the Repentant Sinner. Over the past two years teaching high school theology, at least one of my students understands the exact time this psalm should be recited for us Catholics – before or after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In Psalm 51:1-2, David feels the magnitude of his guilt and is very sick from the sin he just committed.  He prays fervently that God will not take his mercy from him – “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”

Now it should be understood that term mercy is translated in the Hebrew as hesed (covenant love/fidelity).  I spoke about this term in the reflection on Psalm 41. David is hoping that God will not take away his hesed from him. If you replace the term hesed or covenant love for the word mercy the entire two verses completely change – try it now. David does not want God to take away the love that he established with him when he formed the covenant in 2 Samuel 7.  David is fearful that God will remove his hesed from him. Those of you that are familiar with the words that a priest says in Mass before the Consecration should know verse 2 very well – “wash me of my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” He says this as he is washing his hands just before he consecrates the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

In verses 3-6, David continues to ask for repentance. He is aware of his sins and clearly sees them. It’s not just the sin with Bathsheba that is the issue, but that he has offended the hesed that God has given to him. In verse 5, David speaks of the sin he was conceived in. As Christians, we clearly see this at the doctrine of original sin that is taught by the Church.  David is fully aware that God has given him the intellect to know that he has sinned and the ability to confess his sin and make amends.

In Verses 7-9, David continues to ask for forgiveness and to be healed of the illness that has overtaken his life. Now there is an interesting statement in verse 7 – “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” A hyssop was a brush like branch that grew in the Middle East. The Israelites used the branch to spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts before the Death of the Firstborn (the last plague) in Egypt and it’s also used to lift up a sponge filled with wine to Jesus while he is on the cross. David is either using the branch to sprinkle water upon himself as a ritual cleaning or maybe he is using the branch as mortification and he is purging himself as penance for the sins he committed.

As Catholics we may no longer use physical mortifications as penance as much, but when we do our penance after the Sacrament of Confession, we are mortifying ourselves from the sins we just confessed. At times and depending on the severity our sins, this is very painful.

In verses 10-12, we see David seeking not only a physical healing from his sins, but he seeks an internal healing as well when he says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” He seeks God’s loyalty and wants a heart, a heart that is circumcised (Dt 30:6) and made new. Simply, he wants to remain in God’s presence! Blessed John Paul II says in his book, Psalms and Canticles, “The Psalm, however, was enriched in later centuries, by the prayer of so many sinners, who recovered the themes of the “new heart” and of the “Spirit” of God placed within the redeemed human person, according to the teaching of the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.”

For us a Catholics, after the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not only are we healed physically because our sins hurt the Body of Christ, but we are also healed internally and souls are made new. We walk out of the “Medicine Box” as saints!

In verses 13-17, David vows to make God’s ways known to all men. He desires to speak of God and to praise him in all that does, even in the face of those who despise him. After committing this terrible sin, David seeks to do contrition. As Catholics, we say an Act of Contrition in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess all that we have done, give praise back to God, and to avoid sin and the near occasion of sin. Just as David said his contrition to God, so must our contrition be said to God as well.

Verses 18-19 were more than likely added on at a later date during the rule of Nebuchadnezzar after the Temple had been destroyed and the city of Jerusalem set in ruin.

This is an important psalm that should be read and prayed more often, especially during the Lenten Season. I would encourage you to place these words on the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ while he suffers and dies for our sins on the cross.  As I stated above, this is a great psalm when entering or exiting the Sacrament of Confession.

As Catholics, we should look to the great saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, who could have prayed this psalm many times during his conversion to the Catholic Church – “I know my fault; my sin is always before me…my sacrifice is a contrite spirit…a new heart create in me, O God…”

May this Lent be fruitful and filled with God’s blessings.