Lectionary Reflection: Third Sunday of Lent
- Exodus 20:1-17 or 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17
- 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
- John 2:13-25
Thoughts for your consideration: by John Gonzalez, CPP
The lectionary readings for this Sunday remind us of the social contract we have with God. In many ways the heart of Jewish and Christian Scripture is the story of God’s social contract with humanity and the early development of this saga. The Jewish Scriptures offer the earliest phase of this development in which God chooses the community known as the Israelites and develops this contract in the form of the Ten Commandments. As we know from the rest of scripture the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue) are never dissolved or rescinded. Jesus tells us that he does not abolish the law but rather he fulfills it. Therefore, it seems worthwhile to reflect on the nature of this contract and what it means for us.
I had learned in my theological studies that the Ten Commandments, especially as they were written in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy, very much follow the prescription of a legal social contract in the way it was written back in the 6th century BCE. Such a contract requires two active agents, God and humanity. This means that God has certain expectations of us. Those of us who have children are familiar with having expectations. Yes we will provide basic needs for our children and they will inherit what we have worked for, but, as responsible agents of the home, we require that they fulfill specific expectations. They are to behave and demonstrate kindness, do chores, be good stewards of their rooms, help their younger siblings and develop their talents responsibly by going to school and engaging in social activities. In a similar way God calls us to be His children and to inherit His Kingdom, but God expects us to be responsible and loving agents of our neighborhood and global community.
The details of this contract are revolutionary compared to the typical association that tribal groups in the fifth century had with their deity. Instead of demanding sacrifice and rituals that appease the deity God asks the Israelite community (and us) to promote social justice. To worship and be in relationship with God is directly related to our social responsibility. The Decalogue presents the first three laws as some basic expectation of sacred respect that we owe our God. The remaining seven laws list some pretty basic expectations with regard to the global human community. All of this is ultimately summarized in the greatest commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37,39)
Paul reminds us however that this contract is beyond the wisdom of the world and our responsibility towards fulfilling these divine expectations cannot be measured by social metrics. In this case Paul has to explain to the Corinthian community the social paradox that Jesus, who is the ultimate expression of God’s love and justice, was executed by the “wisdom of the world” and the social structures that governed his society. Whenever our own society attempts to achieve social peace by focusing simply on the legal dimensions of the Decalogue despite preserving its social structures, it usually ends up sacrificing the spirit of the law which is to build up the human community.
So the Romans and the Chief Priest saw Jesus as a disturber of the peace instead of a divine reformer who was establishing a right relationship with God and the human community through incidents such as the cleansing of the Temple. And they had him crucified as a criminal. Yet “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”
Now is a time for us to review the “wisdom of the world” based on the spirit of the contract we have with God. How do our financial institutions, corporations and governments address the negative spirit that supports stealing and coveting when so many human needs are being unmet? How do global militarism, terrorism and civil conflict address the spirit that prohibits killing? How do our domestic laws protect the spirit of family respect and how do they support the responsibility of parents? And finally how does our society and its dysfunctional partisan discourse honor the spirit of our sacred relationship to one God and our responsibility to one human community?
Questions for Reflection in your Faith Sharing Group:
- What are the things that need renewal or reform in our world?
- What policies based on the former wisdom of this world need to revised for not promoting the spirit of Divine wisdom?
- What would Jesus do if he entered one of the “temples of our financial system” today?