Third Sunday of Lent, Year B
Exodus 20:1-17; 1Cor 1:22-25: Jn 2:13-25
STAY OUT OF TROUBLE
When I was growing up, my father usually told me to stay out of trouble, especially before I left home for school. Unfortunately, I didn’t always keep his words. That is how I came back home crying a number of times because I looked for trouble and had to pay the price. Again, the day before I left for the Seminary, my father wrote down some nine points which he asked me to observe if I wanted to go through the seminary. It didn’t take long for me to realize that those points didn’t only help me stay out of trouble, but contained what was expected of me as a Seminarian. These thoughts bring to mind Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Polonius’ last piece of advice to his son as he traveled to Paris was: “To thy own self be true”. Polonius wanted him to desist from intemperate pursuits, from bad company and from borrowing money. He also wanted him to take care of himself.
All parents have similar concerns for their children, especially when they want to leave home for College. It is usually moments of advice which all boil down to this: “stay out of trouble” and “to thy own self be true”.
The Ten Commandments are a perfect way by which our heavenly Father asks us to stay out of trouble. These laws are meant for our well-being and salvation, and for the common good. By observing them, we experience harmony in our lives, with God and with our neighbor. However, when we defy the law, we don’t only convict ourselves, but also break our relationship with God and neighbor.
Every society requires a rule of law for the sake of peace and harmony. But every authentic body of laws must be founded on the common good and well-being of the human being. The values that foster such laws are embedded in the divine law. Without these pillars, our laws and constitutions will be nothing but a caricature. It was Benjamin Franklin who said in 1787 that no empire can succeed without God. And when law makers are blinded by local partial interests, war and confusion are the inevitable consequence.
Even when laws are revised or amended, the essence doesn’t change; that is why the commandments of God will never change. The content remains unsullied from generation to generation. This is because Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Truth doesn’t change. Unfortunately, we are living at a time when laws are twisted, distorted, and changed at will. Something is called black on Monday and the same thing becomes white on Friday.
In the Christian life, the way to inner peace rests on our relationship with God; in meditating on his laws day and night. From the beginning, Adam and Eve were created to live happily until they broke the law of their Creator. They then lost their innocence and consequently brought shame and disgrace on themselves. Their state of disharmony wasn’t surprising because God promises peace, protection and happiness to all who keep his laws. The psalm of today tells us: The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye. They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.
The Ten Commandments are summed up in two. The first three speak about our relationship with God: worship God alone, don’t call God’s name in vain, keep holy the Lord’s day. He is a jealous God in this regard because he alone deserves worship and honor. He wants to have the first place in our lives and in our affairs because he made us like himself, and for himself. It is always ludicrous to set our heart and time on perishable things such as property, wealth and food. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.
In the gospel, Jesus’ unusual reaction to those who were doing business in the temple area speak eloquently of the gravity of the offence. It is inexcusable to desecrate God’s house with any kind of business or bad behavior. The church is a place of worship, a house of prayer. It is a sacred place and the time spent here is equally sacred time. It is a grave mistake to ever imagine that the church belongs to a priest, the choir or some particular Christians.
Similarly, Sunday is the Lord’s Day(Dies Domine), a day of worship, praise and thanksgiving. It is important to come to church with our whole mind, might, and strength. Our disposition and behavior in Church is an expression of our faith. As we worship, so we believe, so we live. Christians who consistently come late to Church have very little faith. Besides, it seems the church is the only place where people prefer back seats even when the front seats are empty. Some people are the last to come and the first to walk out, always leaving the church before the end. Is this all we can offer to God once a week? Unfair! Such attitude can be likened to a father who gives a child one million dollars, yet when he asks for 100, the child decides to give back something less than 99dollars. A man walks out of the church during the homily after which his wife reported to the priest that he has been walking in his sleep for years!
The next seven commandments speak to us about our relationship with one another. All of make up the mystical body of Christ, where Christ is the head. That is why he tells us whatever you do for one of the least this brother or sister of mine, you did it for me(Mtt 25:40). When we kill, steal, commit adultery, tell lies, covet our neighbors’ goods or wife, we are not only breaking the commandment, but destroying the body of Christ too. Christ gives a deeper interpretation of the law in Matthew 5: You have heard how it was said you shall not kill but I say to you anyone who is angry and insults the brother or sister will be brought to the court; you have heard how it was said, you shall not commit adultery, but I say to you, anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart.
What about lie-telling? Each and every one has the right to the truth. The government has the duty to speak the truth to the citizens; the church must speak the truth to Christians. Parents have the duty to speak the truth to their children; husbands and wives must speak the truth to one another. “Speak the truth and shame the devil,” goes a common saying. Because the devil is the father of lies, all who take delight in consistent lie-telling are under the influence of the father of lies. Only the truth shall set us free.
Thou shall not covet your neighbor’s goods; and thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. These commandments are against the vice of greed and selfishness. Greedy persons are hardly ever satisfied with what they have got. So they set their hearts on others’ goods and women. This people indulge in extramarital relationships, excessive pursuit of wealth, food and worldly gain. A short prayer here: From earthly gain, which is heavenly loss, deliver us O Lord.
According to worldly standards, those who manipulate, distort the law, cheat, and bribe their way through are considered smart. But our second reading today tells us that this foolishness in God’s sight. As we continue our Eucharistic celebration, let us pray for the gift of true wisdom: to keep God’s laws, to stay out of trouble, and to be true to our calling. Amen.