Readings for March 11, Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 20: 1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
When I began my education in the first grade of St. Catherine’s School in New York, we memorized the Ten Commandments. I didn’t know the majesty of “I am the Lord your God,” which spoke of the special relationship that this God wanted with the Chosen People. We who are Gentiles are, as the Epistle to the Romans says, grafted on to that ancient olive tree (11:17).
The people were to have no other gods. (Actually, that was sort of a dead letter for us, since Zeus and Co. were not big in our lives.) But that is a great commandment. I would not like a religion which obliged me to check in with the rain god, the sun god, the fertility god, the river god … whenever a need arose or to get nervous when the various gods wanted human sacrifice or had wars with one another.
I didn’t know that God reminded the Hebrews that he had brought them out of Egypt and that he had told them not to make any carved idols.
The Hebrews were told, also, that they were not to take the name of their God in vain. Apparently this is especially directed against false oaths, but I’d better remember to reverence the name, as devout Hebrews did and do, the next time I drop and break something.
These first two commandments are the only of the 10 that are followed by threats of punishment for violation. But mercy down thee the thousandth generation follows.
It is a surprise to see that the “no work” commandment for the Sabbath includes a day off for sons, daughters, slaves, or aliens among the people. It seems that God has an eye out for the defenseless among us.
We aren’t too good about enjoying Sunday, our Sabbath. Catholics go to Mass, but become pretty uncomfortable if the sermon goes too long or if there is a baptism at the Mass. Minds go to the problem in the parking lot.
The holy day that we inherited from the Hebrews was meant by our merciful God to be dedicated to the Lord, and to provide time for us to enjoy some peace, even serenity.
It seems that we save up the things that are allowed on Sunday, and they fill up the day. Families that have soccer-age children have little choice. I wonder if we start Monday any more rested and peace-full than we were on Friday afternoon. The Sabbath rest is called holy and is a gift we could be grateful for, if we could and would set aside time for it.
We should not have to be told to honor and care for our parents. People now live longer than they did when the commandments came down from Sinai. Financial needs are often great now, and the need for steady family relationships perhaps even greater. Relationships often have to cross enormous gaps: technology, the mobility of families, and surprising lifestyles.
The people who care for grandchildren instead of enjoying travel or taking to their rocking chairs or recliners deserve enormous gratitude. The Fourth Commandment is still on target.
And the last six of the commandments are recipes for a peaceful society. Mutual respect and trust — what a world! We wouldn’t have to double-check the locks on our doors or worry about people hacking into computers. Relationships would be relaxed. Dream on.
In today’s Gospel we meet a very forceful Christ, serious about the holiness of his Father’s house. It’s a side of the Lord that I may prefer to forget. But the commands of the Lord are directed to our peace. The house in which we meet our God in a unique way needs to be a place of peace, not a marketplace.
And it brings peace to remember how merciful our God is, always ready to forgive when we forget the commandments or stumble, or wander off.
Ursuline Sister Jeanne Hamilton lives in Wilmington.