Readings: Exodus 20:1-17, Ps. 19:8-11, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, John 2:13-25

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)

Last Sunday, we read about how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only begotten Son, Isaac, as a test of loyalty. We noted that during this season of Lent, we are called to give up everything and anything that overshadows our love for God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One of those things we must give up is our love for money. This brings us to our lessons for today:

1. In The Name Of Religion, Many Have Turned Money Into Their God
Once upon a time, a musician sang: “If it is not making money, it is not making sense.” This must have been the philosophy of the religious leaders who turned the temple into a World Trade Centre. Even from the time of Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem was already a renowned pilgrimage centre attracting people of faith from all over the world, especially during feast days. On one such occasion, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles, allowing them to speak in the tongues of the visitors to Jerusalem.

Jesus, being a Jew, also came to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Passover. What he saw was disgusting. One can only imagine the huge commotion, the loud noises of traders calling to buy, people arguing over the price and that of the animals, and even the smell of animal waste. How did things manage to get so bad? The answer is simple: “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Dear friends, one of the temptations facing God’s ministers today is the third temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:8-9: “The devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you if you fall and worship me.’” In a bid to live a comfortable life, it is easy for us to slide into bowing down to Satan without even realising it. It takes one with the courage of Jesus to open our eyes sometimes to see how we turn God’s house into a den of robbers.

2. We Know the Truth, But We Demand Signs and Wonders
The action of Jesus must have brought the religious leaders to their conscience. They knew he was telling the truth, but they wanted a certificate of authenticity, proof, a sign, some miracle to say from Jesus to show them that He has the authority to cleanse the Temple. St. Paul was right when he said in today’s second reading, “Jews demand signs…”

During His earthly ministry, the crowd asked Jesus several times to work a miracle, to give them a sign to show He was truly from God. Jesus never worked any miracle for the sake of the crowd’s applause. That would have meant falling into the second temptation, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” (Matthew 4:6). Nevertheless, Jesus always pointed to the cross as the ultimate sign.

On one such occasion, Jesus said: “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:4). The sign of Jonah is that as Jonah spent three days in the belly of fish, Jesus too would spend three days in the grave and rise to life again. This was exactly what Jesus told the Jews in today’s Gospel passage: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it.” (John 2:19).

Unfortunately, we live in a world where Christians, like the Jews of old, continue to demand signs and wonders as proof of authenticity or power from God’s ministers. People want to see drama in our altars; they want to see some display of power, some show of healing, some anointing in the spirit and so on. Dear friends, the only sign we need is the Cross. Have you ever wondered why the Crucifix is boldly displayed in the middle of all Catholic Churches? This is what we preach – Christ crucified. It is the miracle of miracles, the sign of all signs. It is the power and wisdom of God, yet it is a stumbling block to those looking for signs, and it seems foolish to others.

3. God’s Love For Us Is A Jealous Love
In our first reading, God says: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:5). Why would God describe himself as jealous? Simple, He made us, and we belong to Him. Nevertheless, God gave us the freedom to choose whether to serve Him or other gods. God’s jealousy for us is protective, the jealousy that a Father feels for his children out of a pure desire to see that nothing bad happens to them. Indeed, it is based on the background of this jealous love of God for us that He gives us the Ten Commandments.

Let us bear in mind that God gave us these commandments out of a motive of pure love. Think of it this way: you were so close to your father, the bond was inseparable; now he is at the point of death, and you happen to see him just a few seconds before he breathes his last. He knows he will die, so he gives you specific instructions on what to do and what to avoid to live a happy and great life. Would you take those instructions for granted? Would you consider them a burden on your freedom to do whatever you like? Why, then, do we ignore God’s commandments?

It is important to clarify the use of images in the Catholic Church. I have had many Catholics who come to me feeling disturbed after engaging in several debates with non-Catholics on the topic of images in the church. My response usually is this: Every image, every statute and every single item you find in the Catholic Church is a direct pointer to God. For instance, I just mentioned the Crucifix as the sign of all signs. Only a person who does not understand the meaning of the crucifix would assume that it is a form of idolatry. We shouldn’t forget that God commanded the Israelites to make images and statues in Exodus 25:18-20.

Conclusion: Look Inwards
Isn’t it high time we cleansed our temples from profit-making enterprises? Isn’t it high time we cleansed our hearts from the love of money and all other forms of impurity? Isn’t it high time we stopped flocking around self-acclaimed miracle workers as if we need Jesus to prove himself to us over and over again constantly? Isn’t it high time we stopped seeing God’s commandments as a burden? Isn’t it high time we stopped being carried away by the prosperity gospel and picked up our crosses to follow Jesus?

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, may my love for money never come in between us. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (3rd Sunday of Lent. Bible Study: Exodus 20:1-17, Ps. 19:8-11, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, John 2:13-25).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu