Cleansing the Heart-Temple: 3rd Sunday of Lent
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
SERMON AND LISTENING TO THE WORD
Theme: “Cleansing the Heart-Temple:-Purification process”
Point of reflection: As human beings, we often sin, there is a need to purify our hearts and maintain healthy relationship with God. Let us cleanse our Hearts for Easter glory.
First Reading: Exodus 20:1–3, 7–8, 12–17
Psalm: Psalm 19:8–11
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:22–25
Gospel: John 2:13–25
Sermon (Reflection): Dear friends of God, the Scripture readings of the third Sunday of Lent provides valuable insight on how harmony with God and one another can be achieved and maintained. As people of God, we need to constantly cleanse our hearts-temples and maintain right relationships with God and our fellow members in the societies we live. As we continue our Lenten journey, we need to cleanse our hearts-temples and go through a purification process. Thus, a scripture call of the third Sunday readings: cleansing our hearts-temples.
The first reading from Exodus offers a check-list of the purification process which is needed to be practised by every Christian, thus, the “Decalogue”or simply “the Ten Commandments” (Cf.Exodus 20:1–3, 7–8, 12–17). The Decalogue was the core of the Israelite Law-Torah. It played a central and fundamental role in shaping the lives of the Jewish people, as this Law transformed a band of Hebrew slaves, fleeing the land of slavery, into a nation of God’s people His “treasured possession” (Cf. Exodus 19:5). Having delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, God offered them the Law, expressed through the commandments as a “constitution” for the community, meant to guide and orient their lives in a new situation of freedom and in the new land to which they were going. Today too, as Christians, we have been freed by the crucified Christ. We have the commandments to guide and orient our lives.
Biblical traditions in ancient Israel held that Moses brought the two stone tablets from the mountain with ten short instructions intended as the essential guide for living righteously, which was being in the right relationship with God and with fellow members of the covenant community. The emphasis is making right relationship with God and other fellow human beings. The first three of these commandments define the essential aspects of the covenantal relationship between God and the people, and can be defined as the “vertical” aspect of the covenant. The remaining seven precepts define the relationship between the people themselves, and constitute the “horizontal” dimension of the covenant. Hence, as Christians today, by observing these commandments in our daily life we cleanse our hearts. During this Lenten period, we are reminded to follow the Ten Commandments which are summarised in one commandment: Love your God and your neighbour.
The second reading of third Sunday presents the short narration of the Apostle’s attempt to restore order in the divided community (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22–25). Today too, we need to restore order in our life by cleansing our hearts. The Christian community in Corinth was deeply disordered and riddled with numerous divisions, dissensions, and rivalry. To address this difficult situation and move towards reconciliation, St. Paul did not use complex theological and philosophical arguments. Rather, he appealed to the example of Christ crucified, and to the “scandal” and “foolishness” that the cross appeared to be to Jews and Gentiles alike. In one way or another, our life may be disordered and riddled with many worries and divisions, but through St Paul’s writings we can confidentially move into reconciliation during this time of Lent and believe that it is through the Cross that the evidence of God’s unconditional love and care for each one of us can be exercised.
For St Paul, the Cross stands at the centre of every Christian community as the symbol of redemption, and as the reflection of the power and wisdom of God working for their salvation. In other words, we are Christians through the Cross (Crucified Christ), which brings us together into one community. During this Lenten period, we need to carry our crosses and move into reconciliation. It is time to focus on our inner attitudes of cleansing our hearts-temples which are Prayer, Fasting, Works of Charity (Almsgiving), and Love
In the Gospel of today, Jesus cleanses the temple(Cf. John 2:13–25). The gesture of cleansing the temple by Jesus should be our gesture in our hearts during this Lenten period. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, which places the account of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple event at the very end of Jesus’ ministry, evangelist John’s account of the cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple by Jesus takes place at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and at the feast of the Passover. Perhaps, his intention in placing the event in this context was to argue that one of Jesus’ chief goals was to save humanity through purification (cleansing) and to establish a new relationship between His Father and the people.
In Jesus’ time, the Jerusalem Temple was the centre of the religious life of all pious Jews, and the only place where sacrifices to God could be offered. For this reason, the Temple was necessary for maintaining the right relationship between God and His people. To His dismay, arriving at the Temple, Jesus found this sacred space serving a very different purpose. The Temple today may be our hearts. Are we not serving the Lord with a different purpose? Are we not using our religious buildings and our hearts as market places? At the time of Jesus, Jerusalem Temple had become primarily a market place. The people coming from great distances to celebrate important feasts, such as the Passover, could not bring the animals required for the sacrifice with them.
Therefore, the Temple became a market catering for the needs of the pilgrims supplying the animals and changing foreign money to the currency accepted in the Temple. All this brought great profit to the owners of these services, mostly the Temple priests, who accepted and oversaw the business through the Temple guards. This situation appeared perfectly normal to most Jews. However, Jesus, as God’s Son, saw what others did not see. His violent actions of purging the Temple from all commercial activity, reflected His great zeal for restoring the right relationship between God and the people, a relationship which would not be distorted by superficial practices and would be unaffected by such things as greed and commercial concerns. Jesus act of cleansing the Temple is an act of purification. During this Lenten period, we need also to restore our relationship with God
As Christians, sometimes we use our hearts which are temples of the Holy Spirit as market places, too much noise in our hearts as centres of corruption, jealousy, evil, adultery, and tainted with sinful activities. Today, through our Scriptural readings, we are called to purify our hearts and be holy people ready for Easter glory.
Listening to the Word of God “Cleansing our Hearts”
As Christians, we are called to be holy and being holy means a continuous-cleansing of ones heart for the glory of God. The Scriptural readings of third Sunday of Lent invite every person to have an inward-look and to undergo purification process. In the first reading, humanity has been given the Commandments which is a true identity of a follower of God. In the second reading, St Paul proposes to focus on Christ’s cross as the centre of unity and purification process. The Gospel reading reinforces Paul’s message showing Jesus as the new Temple who establishes a new relationship between God and the people. That new relationship is maintained through faith and adherence to God’s only incarnate Son. As Christians, we need Jesus Christ at all cost as He is the only way to the right relationship with God. The Psalmist had the same idea while alluding to the Law, describing it as “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul … the precepts and commandments of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart… ” (Cf. Psalm 19:8–11).
With a cleansing eye to the third Sunday readings, three points can be noted to help us undergo purification process during this Lenten period. First, a need to accept that in one way or another, we have sinned and it is only through confession that we can reconcile ourselves with God. This is a call to cleanse our hearts as Jesus cleansed the Temple.
Second, a need to re-build right relationships with God and neighbour. This begins with attention to God’s word that instructs us on how we ought to relate to God and treat others. God provided the Israelites with an extensive set of instructions called “the Law”, summarised in the Ten Commandments. The problem in this modern world is that, we see commandments as rules, imposed to limit our freedom and constrain our behaviour. We need to realise that the instructions contained in the Scriptures are a sound way to be a righteous person and become a better person.
Third, we need to be aware that living in good relationship is a matter of conscious effort. It is natural and easy to relate well to the people we like. Such relationships require no effort. But, as the apostle Paul makes us keenly aware, our communities are often riddled with divisions, dissensions, and rivalry. To overcome these divisions, St Paul points to the Cross as the uniting factor. In this world we all face difficulties and afflictions. We need to see each other as co-sufferers, and we need to help each other. Let us carry our crosses. Notably, many of us wear the cross on our necks, as a reminder of God’s unconditional love and care. This is certainly correct, and we need to remember all the time that we are saved by the crucified Christ.
Action: During this week I (we) will vehemently make a decision to follow the Commandments of God all the time. I (we) will carry my (our) Cross and help others. I (we) will be a very good Christian and cleanse my heart from all the sins I committed in my life. I (we) will go(do) confession with a contrite heart.
Prayer: Almighty God, the source of life, we thank you for the gift of life and all the blessings You have bestowed on us. With an open heart, we thank You for giving us the commandments as guides for maintaining and building right relationships with You and our fellow human beings. Help us to live by them. Cleanse our hearts-temples during this Lenten period. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, Amen.
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