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Third Sunday of Lent

March 19, 2006

Blessed Sunday!

Exodus 20:1-17 (the Ten Commandments)
Psalm 19:8-11 “Lord, You have the words of everlasting life”
I Corinthians 1:22-25 (God’s folly is wiser than our wisdom;
His weakness stronger than our power)
+John 2:13-25 (the cleansing of the temple)

There is no substitute for putting God first, for giving Him due honor and reverence. If that piece is well and truly in place, the rest will follow. If not, nothing can salvage the resulting chaos.

The Ten Commandments say this implicitly, just by their ordering. If we keep the First Commandment, adoring, obeying and honoring God above all else, we will keep the rest of the commandments as part of that obedience and honor. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Our love and honor of God will reveal to us the goodness of these commandments–given, as they are, by Goodness Himself. Thus the psalmist refers to the commandments in glowing, joyful words. They rejoice the heart. They are trustworthy, refreshing, pure, true, just, enlightening, more precious than gold, sweeter than honey. This is a man who loves God, who has tasted and experienced for himself just how good God is! This is a man who knows he needs God’s shepherding, who celebrates his place within the flock as a royal privilege.

St. Paul describes the opposite experience. To the Greeks, who don’t know God, let alone put Him first, God’s plan of salvation makes absolutely no sense. To Jews who keep the rules without loving the Ruler, the suffering of the Cross is a stumbling block. If we keep the rules, pleasant things are supposed to happen to us, not nasty ones! They couldn’t see the glory in the midst of the pain because their hearts were closed to the nobility of God’s sacrificial love.

Jesus too, meets blatant disrespect for God. Chaos reigns in His house. Merchants are crowding the temple courtyard with the din of animals, coins and haggling. God’s been forgotten. The almighty shekel reigns supreme in the very house where He alone is to be adored. Anyone who wants to pray (or even hear themselves think) has to fight the distraction of all the hubbub. Jesus, who’s come to restore the sacred order that puts God first above everything, makes a whip and drives them all out. When challenged, He responds with a riddle. If they truly love (obey) God, they’ll get it. They’ll realize (after the fact, at least) that His resurrection is the sign they’ve been asking for–confirmation that He really is God and can be trusted. If they don’t get this, they wouldn’t be receptive to any other explanation anyway.

May we put God first, obeying Him in everything, that we may experience for ourselves the goodness and sweetness of which the psalmist sings.

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