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Lent 3 (B)
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Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1. Exodus 20, 1-17
  • I hear the ten commandments, the way to life that all of us have heard and followed from our youth.  But what else do I hear today, and what else should my listeners hear?
  • It is the voice of God.  I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.  Yes, the sacred covenant between God and Israel lives, because I am.  And this covenant is central to our own existence as the followers of Jesus.  This is how we behave as God’s people: honoring, refraining, keeping the faith.
  • Whenever I imagine God I also imagine the Sabbath rest where God is, where the creation is complete and at the same time evolving toward its completion.  So for me God’s voice can only encourage those who listen to it, to continue in their path of justice.  As in a time-out call during an emotional basketball game, we need reminders of our basic plan of attack.  Whether that voice sounds sometimes strident, or sometimes gentle, it is always on topic.
  • Each time I read a ‘first reading’ I refer also to the fulfillment of the covenant in Christ.  Many Gospel passages are addressed to fulfilling the commandments.  The link is not so obvious today, except in the sense that everything the Jewish people held dear is being fulfilled in the words and prophetic actions of Jesus. 
  • Today more than ever we are tempted on all sides to carve idols for ourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above (missile defense systems?) or on the earth below (nation states?) or in the waters beneath the earth (control over oil and other energy resources?).  So many around us bow down before them or worship them.  I can speak directly to the assembly on this.
  • Climax: Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.  As long as we remember, keeping the day in this recollected way, we will always keep the other words of the Decalogue within hearing range.
  • Message for our assembly: All of our actions have implications, not just for some unsuspecting corner of the earth (as chaos theory holds) but for those closest to us.  I inflict punishment on the children of those who hate me, but bestow mercy on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  • I will challenge myself: To speak the words plainly and directly, to allow the congregation to ponder them once more.

 

2. I Corinthians 1, 22-25

  • In just three sentences I hear a summary of the apostle’s stump speech.  Because so many centuries have passed and Christianity is no longer mere foolishness to the onlooking world, many in the assembly may wonder what it’s all about.  I need to pronounce everything distinctly.
  • The first sentence: Jews demand signs – because the Messiah would come in fulfillment of ancient foretellings.  – And Greeks look for wisdom, just as today we look to purveyors of the keys to eternal truth for answers to our own anxieties.  The two audiences sought different answers, and in my reading I will pause briefly between them to make this clear.
  • The second sentence: But – we proclaim Christ crucified.  For me, the first word but shows the contrast intended by the apostle, and I will make a brief pause.  He did not give either party what they were seeking, and so they could not – or would not – accept the message.  By the way, this is the first time in Lent that we announce in our assemblies the mystery of the cross. 
  • The final sentence: The weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  I affirm this as I recall the little people of history who were murdered for Christ but whose witness and fame lives on.
  • Climax: To those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike.  The apostle is referring to everyone who accepts the good news, in Corinth and in the other cities of the Empire, and in every nation and time since then. 
  • The message for our assembly: The scandalous life and shameful death of Christ are inconvenient for many and nonsense to others.  We keep faith because through them we have found Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
  • I will challenge myself: To say the entire reading boldly and with triumphal voice.  Let me remember that we celebrate every Lent from the perspective of Easter.

 

Gospel. John 2, 13-25

  • I hear many details about a prophetic event from the life of Jesus.  This symbolic attack on the temple has the appearance of a real event, though it is only recorded in the Gospels and nowhere else.  In our world we hear reports of men and women who pour blood on military draft records and dent the cones of ballistic missiles, who march to the sea to produce their own salt (as Gandhi did), or who lie down in front of bulldozers in the Palestinian lands (Rachel Corrie).  These disparate events do not appear in many history books, either.
  • The evangelist provided so many graphic details, that I find it easy to paint the scene.  There is real though token action, more in the nature of disruption than of violence, a whip made out of cords and money tables overturned and sheep and oxen driven out.  Finally, the plea: Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.  This time the new lectionary is certainly an improvement!
  • The reading begins by describing the prophetic act.  When the temple authorities confront Jesus, they ask him What sign can you show us for doing this?  I can emphasize the word sign to show the connection with the second reading.  At this point Jesus compounds his action by declaring that he is greater than the temple. 
  • Climax: The prophetic words Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up (We will hear them again during Holy Week).  For Jews in the time of Jesus, the temple represented and embodied the covenant between God and the people, and the liturgies held there made it a sacred sign.  Anyone who invokes the symbols of our nation in this way would be confined immediately without trial. 
  • Message for our assembly: Jesus is controversial.  Where do we come down?  Would we be scandalized or proud of what he did?  Are we scandalized or proud of what he does in our midst today?
  • I will challenge myself: To take the details and make them come alive for the congregation.

Word to Eucharist: Do we really know this Jesus whose death we are proclaiming today?  Are we proud or ashamed of leaders who act as he did?  Which Spirit moves us as we process?

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