The cross is the door to the new temple CNS photo/DonBlake

The cross is the door to the new temple

  • February 28, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 11 (Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-25; John 2:13-25)

Are the Ten Commandments old-fashioned or obsolete? There are those who think so. Cynics have sometimes called them the 10 suggestions or have mused on what would happen if archeologists discovered a tablet with numbers 11 through 20 inscribed on them. But they are as valid today as ever.

It is true that some of the language needs to be updated. Wives are not property, we do not own slaves and people are more likely to covet their neighbour’s Lexus than his donkey. But these are the foundational stones of any humane and just society. The Commandments deal with basic human drives, especially competition and the desire to have what others possess. This aggressive coveting is at the basis of much of the injustice and violence in any society including our own. People are to be content with what they have.

There is also a profound respect for life. Familial relationships are sacred: respect and care for parents and fidelity to marital relationships. Truth-telling and integrity is absolutely necessary for justice and harmony. Finally, we must all recognize a power far greater than ourselves — a power to whom we are accountable and who demands justice and compassion. The Sabbath was established to remember and draw near to this higher power — in this case the God of Israel. Later law codes in the Old Testament amplified these basic principles and went into descriptive detail. But the goal was always the same: a just society characterized by respect for individual rights and dignity.

When we examine the malaise of modern societies it becomes clear we have lost the spirit of these commandments. A loss of a sense of something greater than ourselves, coupled with a ruthless, selfish and competitive spirit have all contributed to the disintegration of a humane and just society. Old things are not old because they are obsolete but because they are often “tried and true.”

Paul gives us another venerable and valuable principle, that of the cross. It is related to the problem addressed in the Ten Commandments — that of human pride, cleverness and frequent use of tools based on the principles of the world. The cross — a symbol of shame, fear and weakness — was God’s answer to these. It was the doorway and the instrument used by God to redeem humanity and to reveal the divine will. The cross requires total trust in God and a willingness to do things God’s way. Humans find both of these extremely difficult! God has spoken in the cross and has shown us that selflessness and compassionate living represent the next step in the evolution of human societies. Being overly analytical or demanding proofs will get us nowhere.

Jesus did get angry — “meek and mild” was not always the order of the day. Religion for profit is nothing new. All religions then and now are guilty, but that does not lessen the dismay that one feels in the face of it. Faith should always be kept pure and access to God always open and free. The scene that Jesus created drew a swift response from temple authorities. Symbolic action of this sort was a recognized form of prophetic communication and had a long history. So they asked for His credentials — what authenticating sign could He give to show that He was doing this on divine authority? He replied that if they destroyed this temple He would raise it up in three days. On the surface the statement is ludicrous — it took 46 years to build. His questioners interpreted these symbols in a literal and superficial fashion.

“Temple” as a spiritual metaphor for His body. John’s Gospel always speaks in symbols and metaphors. It was only the experience of the Risen Christ that enabled His followers to remember this incident and open its inner meaning: Jesus is the new temple. The gift of the Spirit will enable believers to approach and worship God in spirit and truth through a personal encounter with Christ.