Theme: Only you Lord
The word of God today invites us to reflect on the transcendent God who choses to be friendly to humankind. The demands of the law and authentic worship featured in our readings should be understood not as orders but as divine gifts. In both Hebrew/debarim and Greek/decalogue the commandments are not called rules but words which have been offered within the context of an ongoing dialogue known as the covenant. These special words are meant to form the basis of our behavior. At each Eucharist we who ask forgiveness for what we have done and for what we have failed to do would do well to let these words sink into our hearts to shape our conscience.
First reading: Exodus 20:1-17
The Sinai experience was not fundamentally an ethical vision, but a religious event and an encounter of the human person with God. In fact, the whole experience could be summed up as a meeting of I and Thou. Yahweh revealed as I and chose to be committed to Thou of humankind. The ‘I am the Lord your God’ means that the Power which governs the universe is His control. He causes water to evaporate, the vegetation to blossom, makes the human heart beat and the human mind think. He is a power who does identify self with the word I. This I does not simply stand over against us; this I surrounds, envelopes and constitutes us.
In each of the ten words the eternal, absolute and committed I explains the spiritual, social and political implications of what it means to be called ‘Thou’ or ‘You’ by God. It means that other powers are not allowed from this unique relationship. I cannot be imaged or confined to any statue or likeness of any sort. In a word; I is greater than any human imagining and beyond human capacity to fabricate, control or manipulate. The name of I is holy and should be revered. For the Israelites, the name was so valued as to be unutterable. Hebrews circumscribed the sacred tetragrammeton from Hebrew letters for YHWH and prayed Adonai/Lord. Because God had become committed as I to Thou within the context of human history; time and space were portioned and consecrated to be specifically devoted to acknowledging God.
Since the parameters of Israel’s I-Thou relationship with God was first learned within the context of the human family, elders were expected to be the first custodians of religious tradition. The fourth word concerning honor due to parents was also a safeguard in a society where the aged depended upon the care of younger generations for survival. The remainder of I-Thou dialogue comprising today’s first reading extends covenantal communion between God and others. The eternal I committed in saving love to every human Thou speak words that challenge us to live and think, to choose and act in terms of ‘We’ and ‘Us’. Because of this, willful murder and theft are prohibited. The reputation and good name of another was not be destroyed by lies. If marriage and family were to remain healthy and holy, adultery cannot be tolerated. Property of others was to be respected. The term covet/hamad meant more than desiring but a deliberate scheme to take for oneself what belonged to another. For centuries, these words were basic terms of agreement between God and people. With Jesus’ appearance, the Decalogue was lifted to a new level of dialogue informed by selfless love and service. Jesus’ death and resurrection has revealed the depth of the eternal I’s loving commitment. God still tells us today that I the Lord am your God.
Second reading: ICorinthians 1:22-25
Common sense dictates that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove doubt. To many Jews and Greeks whom he ministered, Paul was regarded as a fool. He preached a message which for the Jews was contrary to their expectations. . a messiah who would die in ignominy on a cross?. . Never! Greeks with their complex systems of logic and elitist philosophies, crucifixion and resurrection were a contradiction to common sense and an affront to their dualistic tendency of writing off the body as valueless! But Paul would be counted a fool for the sake of the wisdom of God! Whereas some from his audience regarded wisdom as a human quality which could be achieved by sheer dint of intellectual and philosophical effort, Paul understood wisdom as God’s gift to the weak and foolish people. The full extent of divine wisdom was revealed in the crucifixion of Christ. On this point Paul was unrelenting, caring not whether his message shocked or offended; he resolve to preach it plainly.
Philosophers ridiculed him but he did not mince words since he was motivated by his urgent sense of mission. With no time to waste and so many people to bring to Christ, he was bold in the truth. That same truth challenges all of us today who hear his words. Christ, crucified is God’s gift of wisdom to the world. Take it or leave it! Decide for or against it! But remember, those who appropriate this gift in faith will live; those who will not, have chosen their own demise.
Gospel: John 2:13-25
Visitors to the Holy Land can imagine Jesus’ frame of mind as he entered the Temple grounds that day. In Jesus’ day money changers, animals and those who sold them crowded the Temple court yard making that consecrated place of prayer resemble a marketplace. Today, hucksters in Jerusalem hassle the pilgrims over the price of religious souvenirs. Merchants sell votive candles to visitors at the city’s sacred sites, only to extinguish the candle and sell it again to the next tourist. Tour guides purporting to know the precise location of this or that event offer their services to the highest bidder. Suffice to say that insensitive commercialism has been the distasteful companion of organized religion for a long time.
As a partial explanation of his actions in the Temple, Jesus refers to Jeremiah 7:11-14 who blamed the desecration and destruction of the Temple on the evil deeds of the people. Also Tobit 14:1-10 and Zechariah 14:20 depicted an ideal Temple in which no business would be conducted except the proper business of authentic worship. Jesus’ description of the Temple as ‘my Father’s house and the citation of “zeal for your house consumes me” Psalm 69 underscored the special relationship Jesus shared with God, an intimate I-Thou relationship made accessible to all who believe because of Jesus’ saving words and works. But, as is usually the case when one reads the gospel of St John, there is a further depth of meaning in this passage. An event included in each of the four gospels, Jesus cleansing of the Temple occurred towards the last days of his ministry on earth. Such disruption of the official cult would not have gone unnoticed by religious authorities; instead, Jesus’ words and action on this occasion were condemned as blasphemy and used as evidence against him at his trial. St. John chose to place this event at the beginning of Jesus’ public mission as a dramatic announcement that the Lord who was expected to appear suddenly in the Temple to cleanse and purify had indeed come! cf. Malachi 3:4. By his actions, Jesus was, in effect inaugurating the long awaited messianic age.
Contextually, the Temple cleansing and the prediction about its destruction are separate episodes in other gospels. However, John has paired and juxtaposed them quite closely with his first sign of changing water into wine at Cana. To understand John’s rationale is to become familiar with two more Johannine literary and theological techniques. By replacing the water with wine, Jesus signaled that he was about the task of replacing the ways of old dispensation with himself, his teaching and the new ways of the reign of God. Capitalizing on the misunderstanding of those who thought Jesus was predicting the Temple’s destruction St John cut across to inform them that Jesus was speaking about the Temple of his body. Like the water at Cana, the Temple and its liturgy would be replaced by the person of Jesus. He, whose body would be destroyed but raised after three days, would thereafter be the place for meeting God and for hearing important words to live by. This is our moment to meet God.
This is the time for all of us to renew our respect and knowledge of the commandments. They are not orders but words of life for us. Jesus Christ crucified is risen from the dead and he has to be the reason of our being. To accommodate God in our lives, we must keep the Temple which is our body clean from any corruption of sin and self interest.