Daily Reflection
March 23rd, 2003
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
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3rd Sunday of Lent
Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17
Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

So as to be more available to the gracious invitations offered to us in the liturgy’s readings, picture your local church building. Immediately inside the main doors, you notice something new. To the right are the familiar Golden Arches of McDonalds with all its accompanying odors.  To the left are pushcarts with popcorn, ice cream bars, and even yogurt for the more health-conscious.  The smiley Pastor is speaking excitedly about the financial stability this new way of caring for his parishioners will bring to the congregation.

You walk into the main body of the church and people are chatting while consuming their new communion.  You might be thinking to yourself that if you could only find a broom you would sweep all this out into the street.  Would you be angry, hurt, insulted, disappointed, or just fed up?


The cleansing of the Temple is what these weeks of Lent can be.  We are God’s holy Temple and, because we are so human and so surrounded and penetrated by the “things” of this world, we become distracted by, and attracted to, the inappropriate.
We can pray these days for the zeal for the “holy” within and around us. We can pray with the “appropriate” relationships, involvements, attractions which lead from and back to God.  We can pray with the invitations to holiness contained in the Ten Commandments as well as the instructions to the “holy” we receive from our church leaders.  We can pray with the gentle grace of Jesus which frees our souls from the greed of needing more and more. 

Lent is a “coming-to-life” in the church and in our lives.  As we open our doors to the “holy,” what kind of golden arches and pushcarts get in the way of our experiencing the presence of God within our personal temples? 


We listen to the recital of the Ten Commandments today.  In the previous chapter, God promises a covenant with Moses and the people of Israel.  Taken by themselves, this listing of law-like injunctions seems cold and severe.  God has reminded Moses and the people of Israel just how good God has been to them in their past.  They were created out of the chaos of slavery in Egypt and purified in the wilderness.  This covenant is a pledge by God to be their one God and they are invited into sharing God’s holiness by being in this relationship of a covenant. The “Ten Commandments” and all the rest of the “laws” are various ways to express their being a people in that relationship.  To execute the laws without the relationship of reverence and remembering would be sham and hypocrisy. 
So what we hear in the First Reading is not so much a list of laws as an invitation to remember the holy lives to which the people of Israel were called.  The various leadership groups made sure their prime interests were represented in the entire display of God’s laws.  They had their expressions and expectations of just what was holiness.  Relationship with God, with family and with members of the community comprise this covenantal holiness.

John’s Gospel has some echoes of the Book of Genesis.  Both begin with the words, “In the beginning.”  God is seen driving Adam and Eve out of the holy garden.  Their behavior was a sacrilege to the holiness of God and God’s design.  There was a misuse of the sacred and punishment was the divine response.

In today’s reading from John, we hear Jesus purifying the holy place of God’s presence.  There were the sacrifices of purification appropriate for the salvific relationship between the Jews and God.  The “Divine Economy” was replaced by human commerce and the ritual was becoming adulterated by the monetary exchanges.  Jesus is seen, not so much as angry, as consumed with the holiness of God in this holy temple. 

This event becomes a backdrop for the revelation that John threads through his Gospel, that Jesus is the solution to the question which faced the Jewish community after the Roman army destroyed the rebuilt-temple that took forty-six years to restore.  The question for them was what will be our holy place now and who are we if we do not have a place for the presence of God?  Here John begins to present Jesus as the fullness of the answer.  Holiness resides in the presence of God in Jesus as the Temple.

Back in the “sixties” Transactional Analysis was popular and books by the names of Games People Play and What Do You Say after You Say Hello arranged human relationships according to specific patterns.  People acted differently according to their “scripts.”  One such pattern or “game” is “ritual.”  It was seen as a “Defensive Time-Structure.”  Games are what we do between and among ourselves so we don’t have to interact intimately. 

“Ritual” is a certain doing this action and that behavior together while making sure we remain distinct and separate. Family gatherings, community gatherings, even meetings between two persons can celebrate ritually, but not relationally.  God invites us to a relationship of intimacy, but because we are not so sure how to receive that relationship, we can default to heart-absent execution.  Rituals are important for relationships, but the relationship has to be central.  The relationship can express itself through rituals, but the God-initiated relationship is the “why” and the rituals can be the “how.”

Jesus came into the temple not so much in anger, but saying, “The game is over.”  No more “scripty” behavior, that is, no more performing just for the sake of doing something.  The Ten Commandments themselves can become ritualistic.  They were offered as ways for the people of Israel to live in “response” rather than “reaction.”  We are invited during this “joyful season of Lent” to celebrate the rituals of fasting, praying, works of charity, liturgy and other devotions; not as games the people of God play, but as relational responses to the God who has called all of us out of slavery.

“My eyes are ever fixed on the Lord, for he releases my feet from the snare.” Psalm 25
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