The Third Sunday of Lent [B]
Exodus 20:1-3,7-8,12-17 + 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 + John 2:13-25
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
This Sunday’s Scriptures remind us of the primacy of God the Father’s love for us. This reminder comes to us via a particular sign.
St. Paul proclaims in today’s Second Reading that “Jews demand signs”. Yet they are like all mankind in this regard. Signs are helpful and useful. Can you imagine driving on the interstate or in a business district if there were no signs?
The signs that the Jews demanded were religious signs, however. They demanded signs, and they demanded these signs from God Himself. Still, here also we are like our forefathers in faith. We ask God for signs that we are loved, that things are going to turn out all right, and even the He exists and is listening to our concerns.
So while the first-century “Greeks look for wisdom,” and the Romans respect the rod and the whip, the “Jews demand signs”. We hear how this is true of the Jewish persons within today’s Gospel Reading.
After Jesus initiates conflict in the Jewish Temple, “the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’” Jesus shows them the sign of the Cross through His words: “‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’” On Good Friday, Jesus proclaims the sign of the Cross by sacrificing His Body and Blood on it. But most around Him reject both His word and His sacrifice. In today’s Gospel Reading, those around Him refuse to believe what He foretells about the Temple of His Body. On Good Friday, they will nail that Body to the Cross.
Lent is a season of sorrow and bitterness. In our Lenten devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, we rightly feel sadness at the fact that Jesus suffered so intensely because of our sins. St. John the Evangelist paints the lines of bitterness and sorrow in his portrait of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage. This passage is set two years before Jesus’ Passion and Death on the Cross, “while He was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover”. On that occasion, “many began to believe in His Name when they saw the signs He was doing.” That sounds like a good thing, since Jesus’ ministry seems to be growing successfully.
If God the Father had sent His son to save us by miracles, the popular response that He received might have brought joy to Jesus’ heart. But the evangelist tells us something far different: “Jesus would not trust himself to them because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.”
John’s commentary here foreshadows the events of Holy Week. God the Father did not send His Son to save us through a miraculous sign, but through a sign of failure: betrayal, false condemnation, public humiliation and physical torture all led up to the sign of the Cross. The Cross on Calvary was meant to serve as a human sign, and a divine sign. Humanly, Jesus had His hands and feet nailed to a cross at the top of a mountain. This was meant by sinful rulers to serve as a sign for anyone who might dare reject the rule of the Romans and the Law of the Levites.
But as a divine sign, the sign of the Cross reveals that God’s very nature, His divine Life, is a paradox. St. Paul makes this plain to the Corinthians: “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” This is what those of Jesus’ day fail to understand, both on this Passover two years before Jesus’ crucifixion, and also on that day so tragic that we call it “Good Friday”.
Yet even today, God means for the sign of the Cross to serve as a sign for you, a sinner, to experience forgiveness, mercy, and spiritual healing. Lent is a season of preparation. This preparation is necessary. In other words, you cannot and will not celebrate Easter rightly without engaging in the mysteries of Lent. Lent prepares us for Easter by putting before us—for our devotion and imitation in daily life—the truth that the Cross of Jesus is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”