Home » Gospel Encouragement – 6th March 2021 – 3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel Encouragement – 6th March 2021 – 3rd Sunday of Lent

Dear sisters and brothers,

As we reflect on this Sunday’s readings, the central theme that seems to emerge is the reminder from the psalm: “you, Lord, have the message of eternal life.” And, if we take that phrase seriously, we have to ask ourselves the question: do I really believe that God has the message of eternal life?  Do I understand that God’s teaching, in its entirety – all the ten commandments that we heard in the first reading, and Jesus prioritising of worship in the Gospel – is the message that we need to hear day by day, because it is the supremely beneficial message for our lives here and now, which will help us access eternal life beyond?  Do I accept that God – in his enormous, overwhelming love for us – wants the absolute best for us, and that his ways – these ways that he highlights in articulates clearly in the Scriptures – are the means by which we will live the healthiest life spiritually, and see it bear fruit emotionally, psychologically and physically as well.

One of our problems in being able to answer these questions with a categorical ‘yes’ is that, as St Paul reminds us today, this way of life that the Lord advocates, is an “obstacle” – “madness” – that the world cannot get over, while to those who have been called (us) it is the power and the wisdom of God. “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  However, the dilemma for all of us is that, while we accept God’s wisdom at one level, each of us is affected by the world in which we live, which sees it as an obstacle and madness.  In fact, many people argue that we adopt the values of the world more quickly than we adopt the values of God.

If I remember correctly, a compass points due north unless it is in the presence of a magnet.  When a magnet is nearby the pointer goes haywire.  As Christians, the ten commandments remain our moral compass, but the magnetic pull of the world can send our reading of it haywire.  For example, when we think about the first three commandments relating to God himself:

  • ‘you shall have no gods except me;
  • you shall not utter the name of the Lord your God to misuse it;
  • remember the sabbath day and keep it holy;”

we still maintain these to a degree, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this at the moment.  However, I recognise the battle that I have in this area and presume that most of us are quite similar.

For instance, when I pray, I find myself distracted by the things which I give greater priority to, in terms of time, than God.  For myself this is concerns relating to work and sadly, the book I’m reading or the TV series that I’m watching.  I allow these things to capture my imagination in a way that I don’t allow the Lord to.  Thankfully, God understands our human frailty, and forgives us, but he asks us to give him first place.  The next step beyond this is when I allow work or TV or whatever it may be – security, family, possessions, education, exercise – to dominate to such an extent that time for prayer doesn’t get a look in.  It has then replaced God to an even greater degree as the central relationship of my life and become a god in place of the one true God.  We all struggle with these things, including me.  I simply highlight them so that we can become more aware in the hope that we can start to put them right, to place God at the centre of our lives.

However, it’s probably in the area of commandments five, six and nine that we in the Church are at odds with the world, and with which many of us may be pulled in two directions:

“You shall not kill;

You shall not commit adultery;

You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife (or husband);”

While these commandments are our moral compass, the magnet of the world around what these relate to – most notably, sexual expression and abortion among other things –has sent the pointer on the compass not just haywire, but into a permanent spin, and has placed all of us –the Church – in the firing line.  We know that we must never sit in judgement on another person; God tells us that judgement is for him alone to make, and we trust in his merciful justice.  However, God has also been clear with us that the healthiest way for all people to live is to keep the sexual act within the context of a loving, faithful, respectful, lifelong marital relationship between one man and one woman, that is always open to new life, and it is beholden on us to deepen our understanding of this truth and to promote it as best we can in the world in which we live.  This is the ideal that we are asked to aspire to by the Father, even if society thinks differently, as we grow in trust in the fact that he knows what is best for us.

And today’s Gospel highlights how we can use this season of Lent wisely.  Jesus cleanses a very specific area of the Temple, the initial courtyard where the gentiles could come to explore the beginnings of faith in God.  He is cleansing it of those things that have become an obstacle to enabling the gentiles to understand “the message of eternal life’ that is for them as well as the Jews.  Lent, then, is also a time to allow Jesus to cleanse each of us, as the temples of the Holy Spirit that we are, of the obstacles that stop us and others understanding “the message of eternal life”, allowing us the space to free our moral compass from the magnetism of the world, and to point due north to him once more.  Let’s pray through St Paul’s words again, and those of the psalmist, as we remind ourselves of the truth, goodness and beauty stated in them:

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,

and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

“You, Lord, have the message of eternal life.”

With every blessing,

Simon