Third Sunday of Lent
March 7, 2021 Cycle B
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
Sunday Reading Meditations
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul says: “We proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:22). At the center of our Christian life is Jesus’ cross, where we find the power and the wisdom of God. The cross is the greatest sign that God loves the world and makes us partakers of divine life. As today’s verse before the Gospel says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.”
Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover in the temple, which represents the Church and all of us. Jesus wants to expel everything that is antithetical to the true worship of God. He said to the people there: “According to Scripture, my house will be called a house of prayer; but you are turning it into a bandits’ den (Mt 21:13).”
Today’s first reading says: “I, the LORD, am your God […]. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves” (Ex 20:2–4). Jesus’ mission is to cleanse the world and us from the adoration of false gods. Christ wants to purify us from idolatry, introducing us into the true worship of God. As today’s responsorial says, “The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever” (Ps 19:9).
We are not pagans. We do not worship stones and trees or participate in cults. However, there is an existential idolatry within us. Idolatry is confusion. It is the confounding of creatures with the Creator. It is to put our hope in what is vain. It is to divinize what is not divine.
Our hearts easily bind to the material, without seeing the immaterial. We fail to recognize what is around us as a sign of something greater. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, it is significant that after Jesus expels the money changers from the temple, he cures the blind. Idolatry is blindness of the spirit, a moral blindness. We only see the surface and think it is everything. Our positivist culture only affirms what we can see and touch as real. Despite our faith, we live as if this were true. We fail to see beyond what is in front of us. We fail to perceive God’s presence in everything. How many times do we really think about Jesus during the day? Perhaps we think about him when we are praying but otherwise it is as if he did not exist.
Jesus frees us from every kind of idolatry. “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area” (Jn 2:15). Jesus cleanses our hearts and uses his whip to destroy everything that usurps the place reserved only for God. What is Jesus’ whip? We find the answer in the second reading, when Saint Paul says: “We proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:22). Jesus’ whip is his cross, with which he cleanses us from everything that is antithetical to God. Through Christ’s cross, we enter into the true adoration of God.
The power and the wisdom of the cross reach us through Baptism: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts” (Ez 36:25–26). The blood of Christ transforms our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.
If we accept the sufferings of life, all our tribulations, as participation in Jesus’ cross, we will experience the mysterious power of liberation, wisdom and peace: “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24).
“Zeal for your house will consume me” (Jn 2:17). Jesus jealously wants to be everything to us. He wants us to recognize that everything belongs to him: the face we love, the things we have, the dreams we dream, everything we touch. He wants us to belong totally to him. Jesus is not an alternative; he is the origin and fount from whom everything proceeds.
In Mary, the Sorrowful Mother, we find a heart that belongs totally to God. In Mary, we find the true worshipper, a model to emulate. Through her intercession, may we obtain hearts like hers. Amen.