The Third Sunday in Lent, 7 March 2021

The Third Sunday in Lent, 7 March 2021

 

Exodus 20:1-17

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

Psalm 19

 

The Collect

 

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 


Background: The Second Temple

 

With the edict of Cyrus, the Great, and the return of some Jewish peoples to Palestine in the sixth century BCE, a Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt. The Temple built by Solomon was destroyed 586 BCE by the Neo-Babylonian Empire, thus the necessity to rebuild the Temple after the return. Under Zerubbabel, a modest building was constructed, and later during the reign of Herod the Great (72-4 BCE), the whole complex was completely rebuilt in a lavish and monumental manner. The building of the modest structure was begun ca. 559 BCE, and after a cessation of building due to opposition by people who had remained in Jerusalem during the exile, the construction resumed under Darius, around 521 BCE. The biblical account of the return and the rebuilding is found in the books of Ezra, and Nehemiah.

 

The vessels of the Temple had been looted by the Babylonians, and some items were lost, namely the Ark of the Covenant, The Urim and Thummin, and Holy Oils. If the carvings in the Arch of Titus in Rome are to be trusted, The Menorah and other objects were taken from the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Among these items may have been the Table of the Showbread, and the Altar of Incense. Other objects may have been restored by Cyrus the Great. On interesting feature was the Holy of Holies was not separated from the Holy Place by a wall, but rather by a curtain.

 

There was another looting of the old second Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Emperor of the Seleucid Empire around 200 BCE. A statue of Olympian Zeus was erected in the Temple in 167 BCE. All temple services devoted to YHWH were stopped, circumcision was illegal, and pigs were sacrificed on the temple altar. After the Maccabean Revolt (167-160), and with the demise of the Seleucid Empire, the Temple was rededicated.

 

The expansion of the Temple area under Herod the Great began in 20 – 11 BCE. The physical footprint of the complex was doubled. During the construction the ritual sacrifices of the Temple were continued, so that there was no break in the religious activities of the cult. This complex was destroyed by Titus in 70 CE.

 

First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17

 

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

 

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

 

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

 

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 


What we know as “The Ten Commandments” is known in Hebrew as “The Ten Words”. In them we have the substance of the Covenant that YHWH made with the People of Israel. There are no stated punishments, just the expression of God’s will as to how the Chosen People are to live. There are two groups of words. The first is dedicated to what is owed to God. The second section outlines duties that one has to other people. In the first of the commandments, the words are accompanied by explanation and exhortation. Thus, “I am the YHWH your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Thus) You shall not have other gods beside me.” What then follows are the expectations of those who follow God, and then how the neighbor is to be treated.

 

Problematic in all of this is the manner in which the commandments are enumerated. There are several systems: The Jewish Talmud, Reformed Churches (including the Anglicans), The Septuagint (used by the Orthodox), Augustine and the Roman Church which follows the Talmud, the Lutherans follow this system as well.  Therefore, it will serve you well to be certain to mention the content of the commandment rather than relying on the number. Also, it is well to remember that there is another accounting of the Ten Words in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. There are variations in the text. What we see as a simple enumeration of commands, is really a more complex set of statements that outline the Covenant. Consensus is that the original words were really quite simple, and that as the tradition was written down and edited, the simple words were elaborated upon. 

 

Breaking open Exodus:

 

1.     What’s the commandment that drives your life?

2.     Which of the commandments are problems in your life?

3.     Whom do you think of when you read the second set, the ones about your neighbor?

 

Psalm 19 Caeli enarrant

 

     The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

     One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

     Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

     Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.

     In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

     It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

     The law of the Lord is perfect
and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.

     The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.

     The fear of the Lord is clean
and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.

10    More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey,
than honey in the comb.

11    By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.

12    Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.

13    Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound,
and innocent of a great offense.

14    Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
heart be acceptable in your sight, *
Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

 



 

For Jews, this is the psalm that is repeated at the Morning Service on Sabbath. There are three sections to the psalm: 1) verses 1-6, A Creation Hymn, 2) verses 7-11, The Law of the Lord, and 3) verses 12-14, A Confession. The structure and syntax of the first section is different than the following two, and it is supposed that the Creation Hymn is an adaptation of a foreign (Mesopotamian?) composition. The hymn of creation may be based on a hymn to Shamash, the sun god, whose realm was justice and equity.

 

Taken as a unity, the psalm sees God’s suasion in both the heavens and upon earth, and the psalm makes a fine response to the Ten Words revealed in the First Reading for today. The remaining verses (7-14) have a Wisdom quality about them, as they praise God’s Law and Will. Of special interest is verses 7 and 8 which rejoice in the same idea, that the Law of God “revives the soul” (read: “life”), and “rejoice the heart.” In short, the Law of the Lord is life itself, and the essence of honoring God.

 

The New American Bible translates verse 12b as “Cleanse me from my inadvertent sins.” There is a similar notion in I Kings 8:46, “When they sin against you (for there is no one who does not sin),” Here as in the psalm, sin is a given, and therefore there must be a known and universal remedy. The difference is in remembering and awareness of our sins, and the verse becomes a prayer, “Cleanse me.” 

 

Breaking open Psalm 19:

 

1.     What do the heavens tell you about God?

2.     Of what value is the Law to you?

3.     What are your “inadvertent sins”?

 

Second Reading: I Corinthians 1:18-25

 

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 it is written,

 

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, 
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

 

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

 



 

Hans Conzelmann states in quite succinctly in his commentary on First Corinthians, “Rather, the object of theology is the cross, the act of salvation which actualizes itself in the word, and the determination of the word by the cross.”[1] Paul outlines the outrageous nature of the cross as well – it is foolishness, but it is the power of God. He makes it very clear to those who would follow Jesus, it is “the message of the cross.” The message of the cross is not information about the cross, rather it is the wisdom of the cross, or our experience of the cross. In true Pauline manner, he compares two reactions to the cross – stupefaction vs. power.

 

We live in a time of “wisdom”, but not the wisdom honored by the ancients. We honor the wisdom that is information, or knowledge, or learning. This text asks us to expand our experience in faith, and in our wisdom born in the cross. There are other comparisons by Paul of this wisdom that he recommends to us. Wisdom = Christ, Wisdom is of God, “human wisdom and God’s weakness.” The knowledge of our time is dumbfounded by our faith and by our faithfulness to this cross. It’s something that we need to talk about and profess, for the cross is a message. Do you know how to express that message?

 

Breaking open I Corinthians:

 

1.     What do you see in the cross?

2.     What is your message about the cross?

3.     What is the message that you need to hear from the cross?

 

The Gospel: St. John 2:13-22

 

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 


 

Unlike Mark, Matthew, and Luke, John sees Jesus going to Jerusalem, specifically the Temple on various occasions. In the synoptics, the Temple scene is closely related to the death of Jesus. In John it has a different import. John mentions three different occasions on which Jesus celebrated the Passover, and that is the time link that he leaves us with. That this event happens earlier in Jesus’ ministry may have to do with how Jesus answers the questions about his authority to do what he has done in the Temple. In the synoptics, Jesus asks a question of his questioners, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”[2] If this happened early in Jesus’ ministry, then the questioners might have John the Baptist as a recent memory. Raymond Brown[3]argues for this early timing in light of two fulfillment passages from Malachi, (3:1) “Now I am sending my messenger,” which is fulfilled in John 1, in his mention of John the Baptist. A later phrase in Malachi, “The Lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple” may link up with John’s early mention of the cleansing. It’s all a part of the expectation in John. 

 

Jesus wasn’t alone in his criticism of the Temple. Jeremiah also (7:11) called the Temple a “den of thieves.” Both Matthew and Mark use this reference from Jeremiah to explain Jesus’ actions in the Temple. The prophet Zechariah also comments against the presence of merchants in the Temple. The prophetic ideal was that the Temple was a house of prayer – one that would attract all the nations of the earth. Thus, in John, Jesus is the prophet/messiah, although that message is misunderstood. 

 

Perhaps the reason that this event has become so closely linked to the Passion is the comment by Jesus about the destruction of the Temple, “but he was speaking about the temple of his body.” Indeed, the following verses link that comment with the memory of the disciples post-Resurrection. Thus, it fits in Lent, but it also reminds us of Jesus’ agenda and ministry. The overwhelming impression though is that Jesus’ body is the Temple and visa versa. The vessel (body/temple) is prepared to receive all that will be poured into it – the suffering, the death, the resurrection. All activities excepting those of prayer are discounted, for prayer is our relationship with God.

 

Breaking open the Gospel:

 

1.     What does this Jesus look like to you?

2.     How does this action fit into our times? What should happen because of it?

3.     Where is prayer in your life located?

 








General idea:              Lenten Expectations

 

Idea One:                     The Words and God’s desires of us. (First Reading)

 

Idea Two:                    God and the Law and our Confession (Psalm)

 

Idea Three:                  The idea of the cross before the cross (Second Reading)

 

Idea Four:                    Preparing a Place of Prayer (Gospel)

 

Questions and comments copyright © 2021, Michael T. Hiller

 



[1]      Conzelmann, H. (1975), I Corinthians, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, page 40f.

[2]      Luke 20:1-8, See also Mark 11:30, or Matthew 21:26.

[3]      Brown, R. (1966), The Anchor Bible, The Gospel According to John (i-xii), Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Doubleday & Company, New York, page 118.

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