Gospel Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Lent
On this sunny March day, it feels like Spring has come. I took a walk in the park to gain some inspiration for this reflection. Within minutes, I encountered a number of fathers.
One dad was surrounded by a number of kids in the walking path. A basketball fell out of the little boy’s hands and began falling down the creek’s edge. Dad attentively watched his kid chasing after the loose ball and looked relieved when a tree brought the ball to a stop where the child could still retrieve it safely and bring it back to the path. He smiled and chuckled as I walked by. He looked so happy being in the sun with his little ones.
Turning the corner, I saw another dad on the outskirts of the playground. He hid behind a pencil-thin tree pretending his toddler could not see him. The joyful laughter of the toddler as his dad wrapped around the tree was contagious.
Crossing the street, another dad started to walk with me. He exclaimed that he is joyful in the sunshine and as we chatted, he described his job as a ministry. As a barber, he wants others to be heard, known, and appreciated. He makes sure every person who sits in his chair feels that way.
Though these three encounters were brief, they resonate with the fatherhood we hear about in the Gospel today. Yes, I’m referring to Jesus flipping over the tables in the Temple. Bear with me.
Skipping ahead eight chapters in the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Jesus wants us to live an abundant life. He made us so that we can know, love, and serve Him in this life and experience perfect joy with Him in the next!
As I read the Bible in a Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz, I am learning more about the foundation of the law of the Lord. In the 1st reading today, we hear the commandments handed down to us through Moses aka all those things we SHOULD or SHOULD NOT do.
Fr. Mike often emphasizes that “God established covenant before commandments and relationship before rules.” God is a good Father and knows what is best for His children. He wants us to love the law because it comes from Him in love so that we can live in a right and just way.
One of the most insightful things I have learned in my counseling practice is that anger is neither a negative emotion nor a primary emotion. Anger typically comes from pain, hurt, fear, or injustice. So, though God is “slow to anger,” He is not without anger. As Moses interceded for the Israelites, Jesus intercedes for all of the Body of Christ today.
God is indeed a jealous God and doesn’t want us to worship any other gods. These gods aren’t always as obvious as the golden calf that was created in Exodus. We make gods out of a variety of things that take our time, attention, and love away from Our Father. God knows we are going to sin and that’s why there are prescribed offerings to repair the relationship that our sin damages. When we repent, we are called to change. When that change doesn’t occur time and time again, the repentance is emptied of its meaning.
Each day in the therapy room, clients ask me how to “fix” relationships and be happier. As we work through those lofty goals, I hear the word “should” more times than I can count. After a few sessions, this becomes a buzzword that stops them in their tracks. I often remind them, “don’t should all over yourself.”
When speaking with a client this week, I jotted down what the Holy Spirit seemed to be saying through our session about “should.” The 10 Commandments are the only things we SHOULD do. They were given to us by our Creator who tells us what needs to happen for us to work properly. If anyone has read through an Examination of Conscience based on the 10 Commandments, there is a variety of actions that are associated with each command. Many of the things we say we SHOULD or SHOULD NOT do in this life do not fall into this list.
What do you say you SHOULD or SHOULD NOT do? Is it something God commands? If not, what other god are you listening to – culture, Instagram, loved one, government leader, etc? Are you stressed about carrying out a morning routine that an Influencer recommended? Are you buried in a to-do list that has been written by your in-laws? Are you trying to change your look or personality because your partner told you that you should?
We can make gods out of anyone or anything. Does this mean that person or thing is bad? No, not necessarily. Your god may just be your spouse! Now is a good time to shift your language to not treat every request, suggestion, or behavior as a commandment. God wants to be the only god in your life. When other voices and opinions tune God’s Word out, we begin to carve idols.
The idols that seem most attractive to us are the ones that tell us there are no consequences for our behaviors: “We can do what we want whenever we want; it’s okay.” This can be us when we’re going through the motions trying to stay in the shallow end of life. This is when we try to find the quickest and easiest solution to our problems, often known as band-aids.
This is not God’s way. God calls us into the deep. God wants to heal. God wants to make all things new!
Clients in therapy have shared that their parents loved them with their credit cards and not their hearts. Love is hard. Love is intimate. Love cannot be bought. God wants our hearts; not our money.
Those buying the lamb at the door of the Temple are going to have a different experience than the family who carried their lamb for miles from their home to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. It wasn’t just a last-second purchase. It was a part of their livelihood and brought into their homes.
In Exodus, we learn that a family procures a lamb on the 10th of the month and then keeps it in their homes until the 14th of the month when it is slaughtered:
“Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month, every family must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household. If a household is too small for a lamb, it along with its nearest neighbor will procure one, and apportion the lamb’s cost in proportion to the number of persons, according to what each household consumes. Your lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You will keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole community of Israel assembled, it will be slaughtered during the evening twilight.” Exodus 12:3-6
If you have encountered any baby animal, it is easy for you to imagine how hearts would be moved by this new life in their midst. And it would definitely hurt to sacrifice this innocent creature in the Temple. The weight of the sacrifice will hopefully lead you to change your ways.
“The sanctuary is the undisciplined soul, filled, not with animals and merchants, but with earthly and senseless attachments. Christ must expel them with the whip of his divine doctrine to make spiritual worship possible.” Origen
As our Father, God gave each of us life. If we do not fear Him, we may grow lazy in obeying Him. If we do not take sin seriously, He will not be able to hold us in His arms for eternity.
At the end of today’s Gospel, St. John notes that “Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” John 2:25
The Father loves you! He begot His one and only Son to experience humanity in its fullness. He experienced all of the emotions that we feel throughout each day. He knows you better than you know yourself. He wants to provide what you need. Every crack of the whip at His scourging and every last breath on the Cross was offered up for our salvation.
If you read through the Torah, God lays out the law so that the Israelites know how to live and love as a people set apart. Yes, God is a jealous God. He loves His children and does not want any of them to be lost.
When a parent sees their toddler running into a busy street, they yell! When a parent finds out their third-grader is being bullied at school, they will likely have a hot head as they talk to a teacher who isn’t doing anything about it. When a parent finds out their teen was given drugs at a party, they may go on a rampage as they travel to the home. When a parent finds out their daughter’s fiancé cheated on her weeks before the wedding, they may just flip some tables as Jesus did. The anger is not towards the child, but about their deep love for the child that needs saving.
“For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:5
God is a Father of Mercy. Jesus wants us to see that. Punishment is only to the third or fourth generation, but mercy is to the thousandth generation!! These sacrifices are not just for the sake of sacrifices. It’s for the sake of our relationship with Our Father. Mercy is love touching misery. There are so many things in the past year that have brought about misery, but this Lent God wants more than ever to bring us mercy.
He wants our Lenten Sacrifices to matter. He wants us to grow. He wants us to heal. He wants us to change into better versions of ourselves as we burn away the “earthly and senseless attachments” that tarnish our surrendered trust in our one, true God!
Today he invites us to experience the tearing down of the temple like his body was torn up on Good Friday. It is when the soil is torn up that the most beautiful flowers can grow. We need to weed out anything that stands in the way of the seeds of faith so that we can be resurrected with Christ this Easter.
He made us for joy and that’s what I saw on my walk through the park today. Fathers playing with their children and protecting them from harm. Sometimes a “no” is the best thing a parent can ever say to their child in order for them to experience an even greater “yes!” For St. Paul reminds us in the 2nd Reading today, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:25)
Thank you, God, for walking with us in our humanity and being an ever-strong defender of the glory you have given us. All glory and all good things come from you. As we are called to honor our earthly mother and father, teach us how to honor you as Our Good, Good Father and give you right praise in our houses of worship!!
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