The first scripture for Sunday Mass this Lent all feature texts from the Old Testament that present God’s covenants with the Israelites.
I spoke about the meaning of God’s covenants last Sunday, explaining to you that a covenant is perhaps best understood as a relationship- God offers the Israelites the possibility of a relationship with him, and if they agree to the conditions for this relationship, they accept responsibility for it. Think of a covenant as being akin to the promises and oaths that characterize a marriage. It’s not just a matter of the law, but of the relationship of husband and wife, this relationship is specified in the promises and oaths that the couple exchange with one another. Once that covenant (relationship) is accepted by the husband and wife, their lives are changed forever, and they are bound to one another for life. (At least, that’s what a Sacramental or Biblical understanding of Marriage is all about. Civil or cultural understandings of marriage can be different).
Think of God’s relationship with the Israelites as being akin to a marriage of husband and wife and you have an idea of what the covenants are all about.
Last Sunday you heard about God’s covenant with Abraham, which emphasized that an Israelites relationship with God demanded a total gift of self, manifested in a willingness to trust God, and to trust God especially when it seemed difficult or even impossible to understand God’s will or purposes.
In the Sunday previous to last, you heard about God’s covenant with Noah, which indicated that God would, for his part, act to save his people from the overwhelming powers of sin, death and the devil- dark powers represented by the chaos of the great flood. God relates to the Israelites as a God who will save.
Today, the covenant (think relationship) is expressed in a Law Code that we know as The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments set parameters for an Israelites relationship with God, and makes it clear that the parameters for that relationship are not limited to how we reverence God, but how we treat one another.
Those who are in a relationship with God will demonstrate the truth of their relationship by rejecting idolatry, reverencing God and not reducing him to a curse or a joke, and worshipping God as he wants to be worshipped.
Further, those who are authentically in a relationship with God will care for their parents, and will not be murderers, adulterers, thieves or liars.
Bottom line- being in a relationship with God necessitates not just feelings or ideas, but a way of life, a way of life that facilitates virtue, rather than vice, truth rather than lies, justice, rather than injustice. To have real faith in God is not subjective (which means something like an opinion) but objective (which means it remains true whether or not you want to believe in it or not).
It’s easy to pay lip service in regards to our relationship with God, making it a matter of appearances, rather than truth. The purpose of The Ten Commandments is to serve as an unyielding test of our sincerity. If you are a relationship with God, you are a person who keeps God’s commandments. If you don’t keep those commandments, then whatever kind of relationship you might claim to have with God isn’t real, because it’s not something God accepts or recognizes to be true.
Christians will testify publically to being in a relationship with God when they receive the Sacraments of the Church. The Sacraments are, each in their own unique way expressions of our relationship with God in Christ. Sacraments are not ethnic customs or ways the community celebrates itself. Sacraments are our relationship with God.
Thus, each time a Christian participates in the Eucharist and receives the Blessed Sacrament, they are testifying, (making a public statement), that they have a relationship with God in Christ.
It’s not all that hard to present oneself as a Christian, as someone who is in a relationship with God in Christ, and to participate in the Sacraments, but whoever does so must ask themselves whether or not such testimony is truth or perjury.
The Ten Commandments test us in that regard.
The relationship is true if you observe the Ten Commandments. It’s a lie if you don’t.
St. Paul proclaims the cross of the Lord Jesus, insisting while others may look from signs from God or wisdom from God elsewhere, but what God offers the world is the sign and wisdom of the cross.
What does this mean?
St. Paul means that the cross of the Lord Jesus reveals to the world the truth about who God is and what God offers to the world.
God, revealed on the cross, is not just an idea or a feeling. Nor is God a distant, cosmic force who remains aloof and indifferent to creation. Rather, God, the one, true God, accepts a human nature and lives a real human life. He comes to us “in the flesh” and delivers his Word to us not just in the text of a book, but by speaking to us face to face. His acceptance of a human nature is so complete, so total, that he even participates in the experiences of suffering and death- even going so far to permit himself to feel abandoned and alone.
Look at the cross and you see who God really is.
What God offers to the world on the cross in an undeserved gift. Yes, this gift is his forgiveness, something that we all need and do not deserve.
But, there is more- in accepting a human nature, in living a real human life, in suffering and in dying, God in Christ offers us a holy communion with his divine life. This holy communion imparts meaning to our lives, purpose in our sufferings and the promise of a new kind of life after the experience of death.
None of us deserves this gift, but God in Christ gives it to us. Why? Because he loves us, proving the depth of his love for us in his willingness to suffer and to die so that he would be with us, not just in some experiences of life, but in all the experiences of life.
When a Christian looks at a cross or reverences the crucifix, the sign that we see, the wisdom that we learn is not that Jesus died as a victim of political oppression, but that God revealed himself to us in a most extraordinary and unexpected way.
The cross is not a decorative accessory! The cross of the Lord Jesus is a proclamation, it is testimony, it is a sign, it is a revelation of God!
The Christian directs the world’s attention to the cross and says: “See! This is who God is! See! This is what God does!
The world might want God to be something else! The world might want God to do something else! But look at the Lord Jesus on the cross and see who God really and truly is!
Finally, in his Gospel, Christ drives out the moneychangers from the precincts of the temple- one of the most dramatic scenes in the Scriptures! The audacity! The impudence!
What’s going on here? Why is the Lord Jesus acting in such a disruptive way?
Many preachers position this Gospel as being about the Lord Jesus’ aversion to the commercial aspects of religion. Folks, that’s something our culture, which has invested itself so much in commerce and economics struggles with- but it has little to do with this Gospel.
What it is about is that God in Christ is purifying his temple for a new kind of worship. What do I mean?
The area that the moneychangers had set up shop was a precinct of the temple called “the court of the Gentiles”. This was supposed to be that part of the temple that was reserved for the Gentiles, so that they could offer praise and worship to God.
But that space, that God wanted set aside for the Gentiles, has been commandeered by the moneychangers, and its true purpose has been subverted. God wants the Gentiles gathered into his temple and the moneychangers are crowding them out.
The Lord Jesus is passing divine judgment on all those who would appoint themselves masters of the Lord’s temple and then make the Lord’s temple into something it isn’t supposed to be!
But also, you really can’t understand what the Lord Jesus is up to unless you comprehend just why the moneychangers were in the temple precincts. They were there to support the whole system of animal sacrifice that was integral to the worship that the Israelites offered to God in his temple. God in Christ reveals that that system, the animal sacrifices, is to be brought to an end.
God in Christ will reveal a new kind of sacrifice and a new kind of worship. God will, in the Lord Jesus, make himself the sacrifice and through the power of this sacrifice will give not only the Israelites, but also the whole world, a new kind of worship.
We experience this new kind of worship in the Mass. The Mass is where we offer and receive the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus and through that sacrifice, participate in the worship that God wants. The Mass is the worship that God wants.
Through his actions, the Lord Jesus is revealing that he intends to gather the world into a new kind of worship and this worship will be revealed as the Mass. The Mass gathers the Gentiles into the worship of the one, true God. The Mass is the offering of the sacrifice that God desires. The Mass is the way the God wants us worship. Where the Mass is celebrated, that’s where God’s temple will be!
You are here today in this new kind of temple, because the Lord Jesus, in his zeal for his Father’s House, made a space for you here by cleaning out the old kind of temple…