MARCH 4TH, 2018: THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
"I, the LORD, am your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves
in the shape of anything in the sky above
or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;
you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,
inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation;
but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation
on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.
"You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished
the one who takes his name in vain.
"Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Six days you may labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.
No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter,
or your male or female slave, or your beast,
or by the alien who lives with you.
In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in them;
but on the seventh day he rested.
That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
"Honor your father and your mother,
that you may have a long life in the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife,
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass,
nor anything else that belongs to him."
Brothers and sisters:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
"What sign can you show us for doing this?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews said,
"This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?"
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.
I once asked a rabbi friend what he thought of the commotion over public displays of the Ten Commandments. He just smiled and answered as I thought he would. “Those commandments are our responsibilities,” he said, “not yours. But we Jews appreciate all the free publicity we’re getting.”
The commandments contained in today’s Exodus reading are part of the 613 covenant regulations the ancient Israelites agreed to on Mt. Sinai. If you’re Jewish, these laws are some of the responsibilities your ancestors swore to keep because of their relationship with Yahweh. Should you decide to be part of that 2,300 year old covenant, these 613 commandments are also your responsibilities, even today.
One of the biggest questions facing earliest Christians revolved around whether a non-Jewish convert to Jesus’s faith had to follow the Sinai covenant before he or she could be another Christ. In other words, did they have to be Jews before they could be Christians?
Paul of Tarsus answered “No!” to that question. He reminded his readers that Abraham – in Genesis 15:6 - had made a covenant with Yahweh at least 400 years before Moses entered into that more famous one on Mt. Sinai. That original covenant mentioned nothing about 613 regulations. It simply committed Abraham to “put his faith” in Yahweh, something Gentiles could do without actually becoming Jews. As long as they concurred with Abraham’s commitment, they were children of Abraham. The church could demand nothing more of them.
But as compelling as Paul’s argument, the question never went away during his lifetime. We need only read his letter to the Galatians in which he not only tells his “Judaizing” adversaries to be the first to be circumcised but also “prays the knife slips!” And, according to some scholars (like Garry Wills), his “liberal” answer to the Jew/Gentile question eventually leads to his martyrdom.
The Apostle is convinced the faith of Jesus adds something to Judaism, else his death and resurrection is meaningless. Jesus’ earthly ministry would have simply revolved around keeping those 613 laws, no more. That’s why he mentions his insight into the general Jewish rejection of the covenant Jesus lived and taught. As he reminds the Corinthians, it’s a “stumbling block” to many of the Chosen People. Jesus’ dying for others isn’t a sign of his strength. On the contrary, for them it’s a sign of his weakness. Yet in Paul’s experience, those willing to become weak by engaging in such self-giving will eventually achieve a life the Sinai participants could never attain by just keeping the Ten Commandments.
By the time John writes his gospel in the mid-90s, the split between Christianity and Judaism has become a huge gulf. The theme song running throughout the fourth gospel is “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” The “You” refers to Jews; the “I” to Christians. The evangelist’s first miracle, which precedes today’s pericope, initially demonstrates how the wine of Christianity replaces the water of Judaism.
Here John’s Jesus proclaims he’s replacing that great Jewish institution – the Jerusalem temple – with himself. Throughout the passage he speaks about “the temple of his body.”
John and Paul would have been amazed the classic double-tablet symbol of Israel’s covenant, the Ten Commandments, is so frequently displayed in Christian settings . . . even in churches. As my rabbi friend stated, “That’s not your covenant.”
Yet few Christians have any idea in what our covenant with Jesus consists; nor can we click off our responsibilities. Almost never have I seen symbols of that particular agreement.
Best we “hang in there” until Holy Thursday. Our covenant – and the outward symbol of it – will be front and center during that specific celebration. We need lots of publicity for it, though it’s anything but free.