we reflect on today’s Scriptures, it is important that we put
them into context of the Scriptures from the first two Sundays of Lent.
You may remember, on the first Sunday of Lent, we had a reading from the
first book of Genesis that reminded us of the first Covenant that God had
made with all of creation, with all of the human race – the Covenant between
God and Noah and the descendants of Noah.
Then last Sunday, we had the story about Abraham
and Isaac, his son, and the Covenant that God then entered into with Abraham
and Sarah, a Covenant whereby God said, “I will be your God and you will
be my people.”
And today, we have in our first lesson, an accounting
of what we call the Mosaic Covenant -- the Covenant between God and the
people when they were led by Moses. And God gives them a renewed
promise: “I will be your God. You will be my people.”
And God’s promise is firm and definite. “God will be our God!”
But then, on our part, we will be God’s people only if we live up to the
directives God gives to us on how to live as people of God.
And so we have spelled out for us today, in the
first lesson, those Commandments that really are two sets of directives;
one about how we relate to God: “God is God alone and we must put no other
gods in place of the one God.” We must respect God, honor God, and
keep sacred the Sabbath day for God.
And then the other part of the Commandments is
how we interact with one another – how we carry out our every day life
-- if we are going to be faithful to this Covenant that God offers to us.
In the first part of the Covenant -- the directives,
the commandments, where God says: “I am your God. You must
put no other Gods before me.” -- I suppose most of us seldom use that Commandment
about our relationship with God as part of our examination of how faithful
we are to the Covenant.
Oh, I suppose the part of keeping holy the Sabbath
-- we examine our conscience on that -- whether we pray faithfully, and
worship God faithfully and regularly. But do we ever ask ourselves:
“Do we put another God in place of the One God? Do we set up idols?”
I think we do, sometimes, at least. Some
of you will remember, I’m sure, a few months ago where I was in a dialogue
format program with Reverend Jerry Farwell. Something from that experience
stays with me. It happened right at the end of the program when I
had suggested that we were really going to war against Iraq because, as
one mother over there who was holding her dying child, said to me:
“This wouldn’t happen to us if it weren’t for the oil.”
And Reverend Farwell got very agitated and leaped
up, almost out of his chair, and he said: “You can’t suggest that!
That our President, that our Government would take us into war for oil!
Well, think about that. You only commit
blasphemy against God. So, if that’s blasphemy, then for him, going
against your government, criticizing your government, then you have made
your government God.
And there is a spirit in our midst in this country
now. There is going to be a big march starting up in Sterling Heights
-- a car caravan. They are going to drive down from Sterling Heights
through Warren and Roseville and Fraser and so on -- over the whole northeast
side of the Metro area saying: “We must be loyal to our government!”
Isn’t it appropriate according to the commandment
of God that we not say: “My Government, right or wrong?”
No! We have to question it at times, even
act against the authorities. I am not saying that every one of us
has to agree with those who say “no” to this war but I am saying that every
one of us has a responsibility to make sure we are not simply taking what
our government says as the word we must accept and follow. Only God
gives us the word that we must follow. Only God is the one God and
we must put no other idols or gods in place of the one God. And that
God has spoken to us very clearly.
Isn’t it strange? Think about this!
The other commandments: “Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not
commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet your neighbors’ goods.
Thou shalt not steal” -- and so on. To any of those commandments
do we suddenly say, “Well, if certain conditions are fulfilled, it’s OK
to steal. It’s OK to lie.”
Why is it that only the one that says “Thou shalt
not kill” that we can find ways of getting around. Well, if certain
conditions are fulfilled, it’s OK to kill, even innocent people -- or any
person whether they are innocent or not. God says thou shalt not
kill. How do we dare to say that certain conditions make it okay
to go against God’s clear word?
That is a puzzle, I think. Why do we do that so
readily. With only one commandment do we do that. The rest
we understand. No, you never steal. That’s wrong. You
don’t lie. That’s wrong and so on.
Well, part of the reason why, I think, we fail
to accept that commandment about not killing as fully as we should, is
that we have failed to listen to Jesus. And that is why the other two lessons
today are so important to listen to, to take into our hearts.
The Gospel lesson is an account of an incident
that happened and is recorded in all four Gospels. There aren’t many
things you find in every one of the Gospels and so that makes it pretty
certain that there are elements of historical truth in this account, that
it isn’t just a reflection about Jesus that the faith community came to
after his resurrection. This happened, where on an occasion, he went
into the temple and he did what John described today.
Now, in the other Gospels -- Luke, Matthew and
Mark -- this incident is put during the last week in the life of Jesus.
It happens during Holy Week. And it is almost certainly when it did
happen and it is probably the reason why the Jewish leaders then said:
“He’s got to go.”
He was threatening the institutional life of the
temple. He was threatening those who were exploiting the poor; getting
rich off the poor through selling animals for sacrifice. And this
outraged Jesus and he did go into that temple and he knocked over their
tables and he told them: “Get out! You’re making the House of God a den
of thieves, a marketplace.” And he wouldn’t let that happen.
But, in John’s Gospel, it’s put right at the beginning
of the public life of Jesus, as I mentioned. It’s recorded right after
the wedding at Galilee that happens at the beginning of his public life.
John has a different reason for accounting this
than Matthew, Mark and Luke. They were showing how Jesus had to stand
up to the authorities and, when people were letting their religious practices
become sacrilegious and were letting them become profane, the zeal for
God’s house made him act. But John is trying to show us who Jesus
You’ll notice in John’s Gospel, in the account
we have just read, the authorities don’t ask him why he is doing this.
They ask him: “Who are you that allows you to do this.” And
so John uses this as a revelation of who Jesus really is and so Jesus tells
them: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
They misunderstood. They thought he was
talking about the building but John points out: “No!” The disciples
came to realize after Jesus had been executed and raised from the dead,
he was talking about his body, that he himself is God in our midst.
You don’t have to go to a building any longer. The temple of God is Jesus;
the revelation of God is Jesus.
That’s what John’s Gospel reveals for us today.
This is God in our midst, showing us how we must live, how we must act
according to the New Covenant that he gives to us -- the Covenant that
we are preparing to renew as we go through Lent coming to Easter where
we will renew our own commitment to follow Jesus because of our baptism.
In this Gospel incident, we are shown who Jesus really is -- Son of God.
And so when we come to interpret the directives
and how to live up to the covenant, we have to look to Jesus. We
must look to Jesus. And that is why Paul’s letter to the Church at
Corinth is so important. He told those first Christians: “Look.
I did not come among you simply to baptize, to celebrate sacraments.”
He said, “I came to proclaim the good news of
Jesus Christ! That’s a message you cannot proclaim in terms of human
wisdom because here I am preaching a Christ crucified! That’s what
I have to preach.” This Christ who would accept suffering rather than inflict
suffering, a Christ who would allow himself to be killed rather than kill,
a Christ who taught us how to die, not how to kill, to die loving and forgiving
your enemies, doing good to those who hurt you. That is the message
of Jesus, isn’t it? We avoid that message.
Jesus really is showing us there is a different
way to overcome injustices, to overcome sin in our world, to transform
our world, to make it into the reign of God. It won’t happen through
violence, killing, returning hate for hate, evil for evil. It won’t
happen that way. The only way it will happen is when we listen deeply
to Jesus and follow his way.
Give up those so-called conditions that allow
us to kill and understand that Jesus says the only way you change this
world -- the only way you change your heart -- the only way change the
hearts of other people -- the only way you change the world -- is through
So often on Sunday, we proclaim the Eucharistic
prayer: “Jesus brought us the good news of life to be lived forever
with God and he showed us the way to that life, the only way, the way of
love.” This is the good news. But, as Paul points out so powerfully,
to the Jewish leaders it was a scandal, a stumbling block. They could
not get passed this. And to the Greeks, the so-called intellectuals,
it was nonsense, foolishness.
But then, take home with you the word with which
Paul concludes that passage -- words that profess a profound truth:
“The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of
God is stronger than human strength.”
Through the foolishness of God and the weakness
of God, the reign of God will happen. We can make peace come into
As we continue to prepare for Easter and for the
renewal of our covenant with God, I hope that we will listen deeply to
what God has proclaimed to us today. And be prepared to say:
“I will follow the way of Jesus, the way of love, so that the reign of
God will happen in our world.”
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
NOTE: A few weeks ago, we were able to provide
you with a reflection on the life of Franz Jagerstatter. Bishop Gumbleton
offered it in place of his homily. As we mentioned, the Bishop was
traveling and unable to give the homily. However, Bishop Gumbleton
did give us a letter explaining his trip and the importance of Franz Jagerstatter.
We are happy to provide you with a copy of that letter.
I am confident that most of us long ago were
able to judge that Hitler's war of aggression was evidently evil.
And we may have wondered how Christians in Germany could have supported
it. But with few exceptions, German Catholics and other Christians
decided they had to accept their government's decisions to go to war.
One of those who did chose to serve in Hitler's army was an Austrian peasant,
Franz Jagerstatter. Because of his refusal, he was executed by the
German government on August 9, 1943.
Today, I will join with Bishop Maximillian
Aichern and others in celebrating Mass in Franz's village of St. Radegund.
The special occasion is the 90th birthday of his widow, Franziska.
Over the past 30 years or so I have come to know Franziska and her family
quite well. I have the greatest admiration for her. With great
courage she managed to withstand the hostility against her and her family
because they were looked upon as "unpatriotic" or even as traitors.
It also took a lot of determination and hard work to raise their 3 children.
And I am sure none of us can even begin to comprehend her suffering at
the loss of her husband whom she so dearly loved.
Over the years, Franz and Franziska have been
a model for me of what the cost of discipleship might be. They and
their children have been "martyrs" in the truest meaning of that word:
"witnesses". I believe their witness needs to be invoked at this
time especially. Our own country is poised to begin a "preemptive"
war against Iraq. Pope John Paul II and religious leaders and theologians
around the world have insisted that such a war of preemption would in fact
be a war of aggression and could never be morally justified. How
many of us will have the courage to resist? How many of us will be
willing to pay the cost of genuine discipleship?
I am honored to be invited to participate in
the ceremonies of St. Radegund. I hope that I will draws strength
and courage from Franz and Franziska and follow their clear living out
of the way of Jesus.
Please pray for me and for all of us.