Mass Reading Reflections 3rd Sunday of Lent Year B: Ex 20:1-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25
There are times we get so caught up in the "what" we do without any thought on the "why" we do them. When a someone once asked me if we did any "Easter" stuff and my response was that "Yes, I took the kids to Church and we read the Gospel stories" I was given an incredulous look, a side-eye as though I was crazy, or maybe being scrutinized that the Easter traditions I was trying to instill in my children did not involve painting eggs, eating chocolate bunnies, or photos with a giant rabbit in a costume. No, I do not deprive my children of these commercialized activities as they do participate in them, but they were not my emphasis. This particular conversation occurred on Easter Sunday, when we had gathered as our large family and gave our children free reign to run around the yard looking for colorful eggs filled with tasty treats. It was that day, however, that it really hit me how profitable our "religious celebrations" have become, that a "non-religious" person would seem almost offended that the traditions I am trying to instill in my children are so they do not forget the reason we are celebrating Easter: Jesus died for our sins.
But as we see in the Gospel, this way of taking advantage of those with faith in God as they profit from the willingness to show reverence to God our creator and Father. When Jesus was going to the temple because it was getting close to Passover, just as we all should during this time,, to spend time with God, His Father. But instead of finding a reverent temple in preparation for the Passover tradition, he found street vendors and money changes, turning the house of His Father into a marketplace, capitalizing on the traditional rituals that are supposed to symbolize remembrance and gratitude of the Jews to God for rescuing their ancestors from slavery.
We are reminded of this moment in the First Reading, that even before giving His Commandments said "I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery." Two things come to mind as I read this. First, the literal exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt as they were rescued from slavery. The other is that God is trying to rescue us from being enslaved by our own desires. In a discussion, someone once pointed out "God's laws are not there to deprive us, but to save us from pain."
God, our Father and our Creator, is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. In the Second Reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. In our flawed, human, mortal capacity, we will never know what God knows. We are constantly looking for fulfillment in the physical world that becomes false idolatry. Our focus on power, on money, on politics, on physical pleasure takes over our minds and our heart, turning us away from God and what God wants from us.
By the same token, we seek traditions and rituals that remove us from the true meaning of what we are supposed to be celebrating. It is not surprising as we are physical beings, seeking tactile comforts experienced through our senses. As St. Paul said again Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom. In so many ways we are always looking for something, but we are looking in the wrong place. To continue in St. Paul's words but we proclaim Christ crucified.
Jesus Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God that we seek. Jesus' life was the example of how we should live. He gave us wisdom in His teachings, guiding us through love and understanding. He showed us righteousness with compassion. He showed us how to each through example. He showed us how to love unconditionally. He was that sign from God, through His ultimate sacrifice. He showed us the love God has for us and the power He has even over death. He is our symbol of life, our ultimate fulfillment.
So as He showed us by overturning the tables, what we do is nothing if we do not seek to understand the deeper meanings. We can perform every ritual of remembrance and still be unfulfilled. As the Gospel said Jesus answered them "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up"... But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
As this pandemic has shown us, the physical church can be taken away. There was a feeling of devastation not being physically surrounded by my spiritual home. There was no smell of incense, the faces of the Saints not looking at me from their pedestals arms open. There was no Crucifix that I could look at seeing the wounds of Jesus, the sadness in His face reminding me of His pain and suffering. More importantly, there was no Eucharist that I could taste. But for the first time I understood that what we do means nothing if we do not seek God in all of it. Jesus IS our Church and the reason we go to Mass. His Incarnation is the reason we celebrate Christmas. His death and rising is the reason we celebrate Easter, and the center for us celebrating Mass every Sunday.
So as you sit there in Mass, whether in-person or not, as you sit around the table with your family, as your children excited hunt for treat-filled eggs, remember why. Because the love and wisdom we have always sought, the fulfillment we continue to seek, we already have in Jesus Christ. We must keep God in the center of all that we do. Because the "what" will never fulfill us if we do not seek the "why"... Our why is Jesus Christ.