3rd Sunday of Lent Year B – March 3, 2024

3rd Sunday of Lent Year B – March 3, 2024

Exodus 20: 1-17; 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25; John 2: 13-25


Theme: The Lenten Season Consists of Letting Jesus Clean our Hearts and Observing God’s Commandments

Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. The Scripture readings of the First Sunday prepared us to know that the Lenten season is the time to resist Satan with all his temptations. The liturgy of the Second Sunday reminded us that the Lenten season is our “journey of faith.” Although this “journey of faith” is challenging as it entails crosses, the glory of the Transfiguration that we experience at each Mass must motivate us to persevere until we reach the destination, which is the new life in a new creation in the heavenly kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate on earth, which we will celebrate on Easter. Then, on this Third Sunday, our Holy Mother Church teaches us that the Lenten Season consists of letting Jesus cleanse our hearts when we transform them into “marketplaces” (see the Gospel) by not observing God’s commandments (see the first reading).

The first reading we heard talks about the Ten Commandments God gave to the people of Israel. In the previous chapter, God established a covenant with the people of Israel through Moses. A Covenant is a sacred agreement in a relationship between God and his people. In this case, on the one hand, the Israelites agreed to obey God and keep his covenant. On the other hand, God promised to make them his treasured possession among all people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (see Exodus 19: 1-25). Through this covenant, God invites the Israelites into his family.

This reading reminds us that, like the people of Israel, we, too, are in the covenant with God through Jesus. By his death on the cross and resurrection, Jesus has extended the family of God to include all the nations. This is what Saint Paul affirms in our second reading. He says that the crucified Jesus, whom he proclaims, is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to all those who are called (Jews, Greeks, and all of us today,) he is the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-24.) Here, Saint Paul affirms that we are all members of God’s family through Jesus. Now, we know that every family operates by some rules. The way parents set up rules for their families is the same way God, in our first reading, explains the rules called “commandments” to his family members, including all of us today. These commandments are Ten in total. The first three are the basic principles to live in a good relationship with the Father of our family, God.  The other seven intend to help us have a good relationship with our brothers and sisters. Undoubtedly, many Christians have already forgotten these Ten Commandments. That is why I encourage us to read this first reading meditatively again.

I would like to focus only on the third commandment here. God reminds us to keep holy his day, the Sabbath, which is Sunday for us. He says that he gave us six days to do our work, and the seventh day, Sunday, is the day that he asks us to keep holy because it is his day. Do we respect this commandment? Do we keep Sunday holy? Attending Mass on Sunday (or Saturday eve) is not optional. Failing to worship God in the Eucharistic celebration is considered a sin for all Christian Catholics because it violates this commandment about the holiness of God’s day. The Lenten season consists of following God’s commandments. We need to keep Sunday holy by attending the liturgy of Mass.

Next to following God’s commandments, the Lenten season also consists of letting Jesus cleanse our hearts when we fail to obey God. The Gospel we heard is the story of the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. The evangelist John reports that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. He found people selling and buying things in the temple area and money changers doing business. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area. He told them to stop making his Father’s house a marketplace.

The context of this Gospel’s story is related to our first reading. To keep the Sabbath holy, as the third commandment required, worshiping God in the temple and offering him animals as sacrifices were parts of the requirements for the people of Israel. Since the temple in Jerusalem was far for most of them and it was difficult to travel with their flocks or herds, the law of Moses allowed them to organize a marketplace at the temple area. So, people could travel with their money and buy animals and other things they needed for sacrifice at the temple site (see Deuteronomy 14: 24-26). However, this permission compromised the sacredness of the worship just as the permission for divorce compromised the sacredness of marriage (see Deuteronomy 24: 1; Matthew 19: 1-12). While allowed by the law of Moses with good intentions, selling and buying in the temple’s area gave rise to a highly profitable business that overtook the sacred purpose of their pilgrimage. By driving them all out, Jesus, who is the Law in the flesh, taught them that the need for materials cannot overtake the need for spiritual life. God must be first.

This Gospel reading applies to us as well. For many Christians today, leisure and all material needs become more important than spiritual needs. They ignore their sacred obligation to keep God’s day holy by attending Mass. We transform our hearts (which are the “Temple of the Holy Spirit” and “House of God”) into marketplaces when we prioritize leisure and material needs over spiritual ones.

When we do so, we violate God’s commandments and break the rules of our Christian family. Hence, the sacrament of confession is needed to repair our relationships with our Father God and our brothers and sisters that our sins damage. The Lenten season consists of letting Jesus come into our hearts through the sacrament of confession and cleaning them up from all sinful practices.

The liturgy of this Third Sunday of Lent teaches us that we are members of God’s family. Therefore, we must follow the rules of our family, which are God’s commandments, especially that of keeping Sunday holy. Whenever we fail to do so, we need to use the sacrament of confession to let Jesus clean our hearts and restore our relationships with God and our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD 

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