Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Sermon at Parish Mass Lent 3 2018

Exodus 20.1-17
1 Corinthians 1.18-25
John 2:13-22

We assume that the Ten Commandments are very familiar to everyone, but I wonder how much that is true today.
And, yet, we almost don’t need to learn them at all. Much of what they say is self-evident. The Ten Commandments are about how to be human, addressed universally to all humanity. It’s striking how little religion there is in them. True, the first three commandments relate to God, but there is nothing about ritual or sacrifice, nothing about how to carry out acts of worship. The only “religion” in the Commandments is about remembering that we are created, and who created us.
Jewish commentators often point to how a passage opens and closes as a key to understand its meaning. The Ten Commandments open with “I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me” and close with “you shall not covet… anything that belongs to your neighbour”. Read in this way, we see that they are about desire. Desire the Lord your God, and not other gods. Desire your neighbour’s good, and not your neighbour’s things.
Follow the ten commandments, and you will desire rightly. Which means that you will live rightly. You will be offering God true worship and living truly as humanity is meant to live. Because we are part of creation, worship and life are two sides of the same coin.
The desires that destroy bring us into rivalry. Desires for what other people have, which lead to conflict and violence. Desires for other gods, because other gods are not our creator and source of life. Other gods, if they exist at all, are only things, such as forces of nature, parts of creation. To worship them is to seek life where it cannot be found, for all things have their being only from the one Creator, whom alone we must worship.
Really the Ten Commandments are very simple. And yet they are such a challenge. Simply to hear them read, we are reminded of all the ways in which humanity collectively, and we ourselves, are constantly short-circuited by our wrongful desires. We know this is how we should live, and yet we fail.
Except for one human being. Jesus today enters the Temple in Jerusalem, and what he does there is almost an interpretation, an enactment, of the Ten Commandments: right worship, right living. The Temple was a physical embodiment of Israel’s worship, a place for prayer and sacrifice. Moreover, it was meant for all people. The inner part of the temple was reserved for Jews, and was where the rituals specifically given to the Jewish people were observed.
But the far larger outer part was the “Court of the Gentiles”, where anyone could worship. This corresponds to the ten commandments addressed to all humanity. It was a reminder that, for all people, right worship and right living went together, and a reminder to Israel of its universal vocation, to bring salvation to all people. It was to stand open in invitation to all.
But what Jesus actually found there was very different: money changers, working on a hefty commission, and licensed by the priests, because they would not allow idolatrous Roman coins with the emperor’s image into the Temple treasury. And sellers of animals for the sacrifices that were offered in the inner Temple – sacrifices that were partly about breaking the commandments. Offerings for sin and atonement showed in a figurative way the cost of putting right the harm done by our disordered desires.
But all this had taken over the space meant for the Gentiles. Jesus saw these things as an obstacle to true worship. All nations should be coming to worship their one true God. All nations should be living in harmony with creation and one another, as set out in the Ten Commandments. The Temple should be a sign of that. But instead it had become an obstacle to right worship and right living. It was keeping people away from God.
His driving out of the money changers and the animals for sacrifice was a prophetic sign. Jesus himself is the one who will restore true worship and right living. As the Eternal Son of the Father, the worship he offers in the Holy Trinity is infinite, perfect, beyond anything we can comprehend. As a man, united with our human nature, that worship becomes our worship, offered by Jesus as our priest and representative.
‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ He said this of the temple that was his body. The Temple built with stones is over. The new temple is Jesus himself. He is where humanity meets God, with no obstacles in between.
And in three days he will raise it up. The cleansing of the temple is a sign of his forthcoming death and resurrection. The cross culminates the life of Jesus which was one perfect act of worship in obedience to the Father. It is his perfect sacrifice, freely offered as both priest and victim, that reconciles all humanity with God.
This is foolishness, according to the wisdom of the world, as St Paul says today. But is it not the world that is mad? This perfect total love of God and of humanity is the single most sane and completely human thing that has ever been shown to us, and it was shown us by Jesus.
And his resurrection enables all to live in the fullness of life with God and one another that the Gospels call eternal life. Jesus lives the commandments, fulfils the commandments, and opens to all who believe in him the true and eternal life to which they point.
In Jesus, there is no obstacle between humanity and God. He has opened the way to all. Woe betide the Church, then, if we put any obstacles in his way. If we do so we are no longer living as the Church. And yet that can happen. Our living in Christ is a process of growth and transformation, as we are changed into his image by grace. But the old untransformed humanity can still be evident. So the Church must always be on the guard against the rigid legalism that tells people they are not worthy, that they do not meet the standards of our rules. Against the self-obsession that can obscure the Gospel. Against the laziness that says we don’t need to witness and share our faith. Put nothing in the way of Jesus!
But also in our own lives, in the temple of our hearts. What obstacles are there that may prevent us from fully coming to Jesus? What disordered desires and attachments have a hold on us, turning us away from desiring God alone as our supreme good, and our neighbour’s good under God?
Lent is a time of conversion, a season for self-examination and repentance. A time for cleansing the temple of our hearts. For the true temple of our hearts is Jesus himself, who desires to dwell in us by faith. The true worship of that temple is his life, death and resurrection, the pattern of which he desires to imprint on our lives as we are changed into him.

Let nothing get in the way of Jesus, in the Church, in our hearts. Let all come to him, for he desires to draw all people to himself, you, and me, and everybody, all sorts and conditions, whatever life has been, whatever our burdens and sorrows and sins. For he is zealous for the house of God that he desires to build in our Church and in our hearts, and there is no-one he will turn away.

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