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 116 – Walking Before the LORD

This past Sunday in the Roman Liturgy we celebrated the 2nd Sunday of Lent.  The psalm for this past Sunday was Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19. When I walked into Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary here in Austin for the Noon Liturgy, I was very excited to see that this was the psalm for Sunday since only one month ago I explained this psalm to my students when talking about the Passover Meal celebrated by the Jews.

Psalm 116 finds itself right in the middle of what’s known as the Hallel Psalms (113-118 and is part of the Great Hallel (115-118). The Hallel Psalms were the psalms that were sung during the Passover Meal as the four mandatory cups were drunk (Cup of Sanctification, Cup of Proclamation, Cup of Blessing, and Cup of Praise). Psalm 116 is also known as a Todah psalm (Psalm 22 is the quintessential Todah). The term – Todah - means praise or thanksgiving.  It was a subset of offerings as described in Leviticus 7:11ff. The first seven chapters of Leviticus have to with sacrifice. In Leviticus 7:11, the Todah refers to an animal sacrifice (goat, lamb or bull), three or four kinds of bread offered and leavened bread (verse 13). You would consume the entire animal that you brought on that day. There would be eating all day and all night – essentially it’s a party.

The peace offerings were unique from other kinds of sacrifice because they were non-obligatory; they celebrated a healthy (shalom) relationship between God and the worshipper and other offerings were made as atonement for sin. The peace offerings were made because you were grateful for God and you wanted to celebrate your experience with God. There are many more elements to the Todah, but this is not the post to explain them. If you are interested and want me to explain more of the Todah Sacrifice, make a comment at the bottom of the page.

I will say that the Todah is fulfilled in the Eucharistic Celebration. Psalm 116 is the staple of the Christian liturgy. This psalm is the Todah Sacrifice. The Passover Meal is a Todah Sacrifice. When the Messiah comes, the only sacrifice that will remain is the Todah. The term Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” Allegorically, we can also see the words of this psalm on Jesus’ lips as he celebrates the Last Supper with the Apostles and during his Passion and Death on the cross. Brant Pitre says in his book, Jesus and Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, “this is exactly was Jesus is doing at the Last Supper: he is offering to God the “sacrifice of thanksgiving,” the new “thank offering” (zebah torah), what Greek-speaking Christians would call the “thanksgiving” (eucharistia).” Jesus Christ, at the Last Supper, gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist. It is not merely a symbol!

Now that we have a “basic” understanding of Psalm 116 and the Todah Sacrifice, I would like to turn my attention to the specific verses we either recited or sang on Sunday. Verse 10 is stating that the psalmist is lamenting over something that is happening to him, a suffering of sorts, but he is not losing faith. Actually, he has great hope even in his misfortunes. Victor Frankl understood the importance of hope when dealt with misfortunes since he was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp.  He says in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Man can endure almost any how if only he has a why.”

In verses 15-16, the psalmist is stating that God is concerned with those who fear him and have died in his presence since it’s God that keeps watch over the lives of “saints.” The psalmist views himself as one of these saints. The psalmist realizes he is God’s servant for God has loosened the bonds. This could refer to the bonds of sin or the bonds of slavery in Egypt. The words, “I am your servant…the son of your handmaid…” and “I will lift up the chalice of salvation” (verse 13) can clearly be heard on the lips of Jesus during the Last Supper.  It is Jesus Christ on the cross that would die for our sins and as Christians we see sin as slavery.

In verses 17-19, the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” which reflects the lifting up of the “chalice of salvation” would have occurred in the Temple. The Temple was the place where God dwelled. The payment of vows is a step in the Todah Sacrifice. This payment in the old liturgy of the Roman Rite means that we join in the sacrifice of the liturgy since this is the ideal way that we repay the debt of Our Lord. In the new translation of the Roman Liturgy, during the Presentation and Preparation of the Gifts, the priest says, “Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” (underline is mine). Although the priest is reciting these words, we the lay faithful also enter into this sacrifice and offer up the sacrifice. The sacrifice is offered by the priest (who is In Persona Christ – In the Person of Christ) but we take part in offering the sacrifice as well.

The Church suggests Psalm 116 as we prepare to enter into the sacrifice of the Holy Mass and receive Jesus Christ’s precious body and blood. The Church recites this psalm during the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ and during the Holy Thursday liturgy.

The Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Lent will add to our understanding of sacrifice and the Temple as Jesus will fulfill the Temple and become the New Temple of the New Covenant. Check back on Friday for my post on all the readings for the 3rd Sunday of Lent.