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3rd Sunday of Lent – March 8, 2015

In the territory of Lent, many of us take on practices aimed at improving our character. We exercise greater generosity and pray more. We reflect daily on scripture or contemplate our own moral landscape. We take up reading meant to edify or clarify. We clear a place for the Holy Spirit to plant some seeds.
But along the path of transformation, taking on practices is only half the task. It’s also necessary to dismiss old habits that led us to stagnation, confusion, or rationalization.  Some of us are gentle about this, plotting baby steps toward spiritual perfection the way Thérèse of Lisieux recommends.  This works very well in cloisters and among saints in-progress, I’m sure. Others of us are hardcore Lenten militants, preferring to cease-and-desist failed behaviors wielding a disciplinary whip and chair. I admit I tend toward this personality, having been raised in an authoritarian home. My inner czarina makes me ruthless when installing an updated version of expectations for my life.
When Jesus occupies the Temple area with the magnificent display of authority we hear described today, he seems to be employing the latter method. It’s an episode revealing an aspect of Jesus that rarely gets celebrated: the nostrils flaring, honking mad, busting-things-up Messiah. We don’t display this image much in church. It’s not sweet or patient in suffering. We like the Jesus who welcomes children into his arms and feeds multitudes. The Jesus who breaks things and yells at people is a little intimidating, a face of his Father we’d rather not consider.
But this face of the Divine should be completely familiar.  Moses encountered a deeply invested God who revealed concern for human beings with an efficient set of do’s and don’ts meant to improve our community and lead to our happiness. The God of Moses loves and shows mercy extravagantly, and also expects a fidelity in kind from the beneficiaries of that love. A covenant is a serious thing, not unlike a marriage. Either you’re all in or you’re out. You can’t be vaguely married.

When Jesus enters the Temple area consumed by zeal, the effect is rather terrifying to the participants, and to onlookers like us. Here’s one teaching that’s crystal clear: Jesus claims the authority of the Temple in his very body. There are no baby steps that can be taken to this awareness. It’s a radical declaration, chilling in its implications for those who seek divine encounters by other means.  Time to choose allegiances, and no fence-straddlers welcome.

By no means does this imply we should abandon the small, gradual practices that burnish our spirits and mildly improve our character along the Lenten journey.  But sometimes, the radical and cataclysmic U’turn may be the only route to the truth.

– Alice Camille

Bulletin – Mar 8, 2015 – 3rd Sunday of Lent


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