Third Sunday of Lent



Third Sunday of Lent

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17; Response: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; Gospels: John 2:13-15

The Book of Exodus is the second of the five great scrolls of the Torah, (a Hebrew noun that is used also in English and means teaching, instruction, law). Christians are more familiar with the name Pentateuch, (derived from two Greek words meaning five and scroll or the tubes in which the great scrolls were stored). The title Exodus is also of Greek origin meaning a going out, enroute, on the road. In the Book of Exodus the Israelites are on the road from slavery in Egypt toward freedom in the Promised Land — promised to Abraham and his descendants. The Hebrew title of Exodus consists of the first words of the book or scroll and is translated as These are the Names. The use of the first words of a document as the name of that document is a custom throughout the Old Testament. This custom is in use by the Catholic Church to name papal documents from the first word or words in Latin. The first part of Exodus relates the struggle of the Israelites with the Pharaoh, the birth of Moses, and Moses’ escape from Egypt. This is followed by Moses’ return to Egypt, his confrontations with the Pharaoh, the Ten Plagues, and the departure (Exodus) of Israel from Egypt.

Next comes the journey to the Sinai wilderness, the testing or temptations of Israel and Moses, and arrival at Mt. Sinai. The encampment at Mt. Sinai is the setting for today’s first reading — the giving of the Torah to Moses, who delivers it to the Israelites. Our reading gives us only a small part of the Torah — the Ten Commandments also known as the Ten Words. They are the major stipulations of the covenant (treaty) struck at Sinai between God and his chosen people. God is the grantor of the covenant, so he makes the rules. The first three commandments stipulate the relationship of Israel to the Lord. He freed them from Egypt, therefore they must not worship other gods of the nations surrounding them. The Lord is careful of his good name, so one does not take the Lord’s name in vain, that is, carelessly. Those who do will not remain unpunished.

Thirdly, a day is set aside, the Sabbath (meaning rest) which is not only to honor the Lord, but to provide rest for all creation, especially for God’s human children. This is the bridge between the commandments pertaining chiefly to God and those that pertain to establish and maintain the peace of society. Interesting point: in the Exodus version of the Ten Words, a wife is listed with a man’s property. In the version of Deuteronomy 5 she gets her own commandment — no longer listed with slaves, ox or other property.


Psalm 19 picks up the theme of the Torah as the word of the Lord. His words give everlasting life. The Torah (Law) is perfect, refreshing the soul, trustworthy, giving wisdom, giving joy and light to the eye, true, more precious than gold, sweeter than syrup or honey. That should draw anyone to read the Bible! More importantly, the Gospel of John proclaims Jesus as the ultimate and perfect Word or Torah. Therefore, the praises of the Torah in Psalm 19 become the praises of the Torah made flesh, who “pitched his tent among us,” John 1:14.


In view of the above comments, the second reading develops the theme of Jesus as God’s word, God’s wisdom, God’s Torah. Heathens, says Paul, look for wisdom. We can give them that, “Christ crucified.” Paul admits that Christian wisdom seems like nonsense to some and a scandal to others, but not to us Christians. To us, Christ crucified and risen is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The most striking sentence: “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The gospel narrates Jesus’ cleansing of the temple — the version of John’s gospel. The other three gospels have their own version of this event of unusual violence of Jesus. An interesting approach is to point out the differences between John’s version and those of the other three gospels. A major difference is this: John places the cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

The others place it toward the end. Pertinent to this difference is the fact that in the other gospels Jesus’ ministry lasts one year, while in John’s gospel at least three years. The attack on the temple fits better at the end of his ministry, but fits better after three years of ministry rather than after only one year. Jesus would have had neither the fame nor the popular authority with people to enable an attack on the religious center of Jewish life, and for a while get by with it as he does in John’s gospel. Only in John does Jesus use a whip. In Mark and Matthew, he attacks the tables of the money-changers and pigeon-sellers. John lists also the booths of the sellers of oxen and sheep. In the other three gospels Jesus justifies his action by quoting a combination of parts of Isaiah 56:6 and Jeremiah 7:11, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” In John’s gospel he says, “You shall not make my Father’s house a marketplace,” a reference to Zechariah 14:21.

The temple hierarchy confronts Jesus — no surprise there. This was their territory. They demand to know by what authority he acted. Jesus quotes Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house consumed me.” Thus John lets his readers know that the historical situation of the cleansing is not at the beginning of Jesus’ public life, where John placed it, but at the end, because it became the immediate cause of his arrest and execution instigated by the temple hierarchy. They demand a sign from Jesus. One of John’s methods is to show that Jesus perfects or replaces the great institutions of Israel. Here it is the temple. Jesus is the new temple, as he says of himself, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John notes, “He was speaking of the temple of his body.” The temple had been destroyed 25 years before John wrote his gospel. There was ongoing debate about rebuilding it. John has a simple solution. No need for a temple made by hands. Jesus is the temple. John 4:23 repeats this teaching in Jesus’ answer to the woman of Samaria.