Engaging the Word: Readings for 3/8/15 (Third Sunday in Lent)

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By Barbara Klugh

Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. We have powerful readings this week—God speaks the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, Paul explains the message of the cross, and Jesus cleanses the temple.

Exodus 20:1-17: The Book of Exodus tells how God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt for a special purpose. They are set apart to be God’s “treasured possession,” and a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Being God’s chosen people means that the Israelites’ vocation was to represent God’s character and salvation to the rest of the world.

Moses receiving the tablets, by Gebhard Fugel (1863 - 1939). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Moses receiving the tablets, by Gebhard Fugel (1863 – 1939). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In this week’s reading, the Israelites have reached Mount Sinai. Our reading begins with God’s voice from the cloud, and, accompanied by thunder, lightning, trumpets, and smoke, God spoke directly to the people, not through Moses: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” and God spoke the words we know as the Ten Commandments, the moral code that is to guide and govern God’s chosen people. The first four commandments set out our duty to God, and the last six relate to our duty to our neighbors.

Just after our reading, the people became frightened when they heard God’s thunderous voice, and asked Moses to serve as a mediator between them and God. So Moses went up the mountain to receive the rock tablets inscribed by the finger of God.

As Daniel has pointed out more than once, this begins the heartbreaking tale of God’s people promptly moving away from their vocation to serve as God’s priests to the world, and handing over the responsibility to intermediaries—professional holy people—like Moses (and Daniel and Katheryn). It felt safer to them to relinquish the vocation to which they were called, the vocation for which God set them free. How often do we too, look to priests and ministers, instead of studying God’s Word and listening to God’s voice for ourselves? As Daniel reminds us, we are not the crowd; we are Moses; It’s our vocation to bring the living Word to God’s children.

Psalm 19: In this his week’s psalm, David praises God whose glory is revealed in heaven and on earth and even in the laws God has given us to live by. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork…. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”

St. Paul, by Philippe de Champaigne (1602 - 1674). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul, by Philippe de Champaigne (1602 – 1674). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25: After Paul heard about quarreling, trouble, and division in the church he helped found, he wrote this letter to the Corinthians to address the difficulties within the young church and to correct erroneous views.

This week’s reading begins with Paul’s declaration: “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” For Paul the power of the gospel to transform lives comes from the cross of Christ, which may look foolish from a human perspective but is the power and wisdom of God.

The world cannot know God through the world’s wisdom. The Jews were looking for supernatural signs from God—the crucified Christ was exactly opposite of what they expected from almighty God. The Greeks depended on skillful philosophical arguments: the message of a crucified Messiah seemed foolish, and Paul seemed uncultured to them and his message impossible.

I may never truly understand the cross in this lifetime, but to me it’s all about the profound love God has for us, so much so that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and then “He humbled himself and was obedient to death, even the death of the cross.” It’s totally irrational! That’s why Paul can say, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

John 2:13-22 : In this week’s reading, Jesus cleanses the temple during the festival of Passover, an incident recorded in all four Gospels. John places it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; the other Gospels at the end.

Christ driving the traders from the temple, by El Greco (1541 - 1614). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Christ driving the traders from the temple, by El Greco (1541 – 1614). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Obviously, Jesus cared about the temple because when he entered the court of the Gentiles, he became enraged that his Father’s house was being desecrated. Instead of a place of sacrifice, offering, and prayer, it had become a marketplace, and an exploitative one at that. Jesus drove the sheep and the cattle out of the temple. “He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” His disciples remembered the verse from Psalm 69:9, Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The Jews asked Jesus to show them a sign to validate his authority as a prophet from God; Jesus responded with a saying about his death and resurrection, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Not surprisingly, his questioners didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was talking about his body as the temple, not the physical temple. Even his disciples didn’t understand until after Jesus’ resurrection.

Commentators speculate that Jesus objected to the abuse of power and economic exploitation—the glaring social injustice perpetrated in the name of pure religion. The Interpreter’s Commentary says, “Significantly Jesus drives out not only the wicked money-changers but also the innocent animals and thus points to a more drastic ‘purification of worship’; the end of the old cult of animal sacrifice and the inauguration of a worship in spirit and truth.”

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