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Reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent

Posted on March 3, 2024, by Mary Ann McGivern SL

We have two complete accounts here today, the recitation of the commandments and the cleansing of the temple. They are each so familiar and so solidly constructed that I had a hard time finding my way into them. The psalmist rejoices that we have a clear delineation of right and wrong in the commandments. The law of the Lord is perfect. The precepts of the Lord are right. We have a rule of law and that satisfies us. It is a good thing to be able to say, this is right and that is wrong.

And because we are human, we are satisfied to see Jesus’ righteous anger in the temple, wielding a whip and scattering all the money – sending the dealers crawling under tables to collect the coins, grabbing the goats and calves and bird cages and getting out. Wouldn’t we like to wield that power, sending all the scalawags under the table to hide. 

But alas, today the commandments don’t have much cachet, and the whip of greedy power is being wielded by others in our names. Our taxes buy weapons; our legislatures protect guns. So much for thou shalt not kill. And when you get to stealing, well, the capitalist system protects property over people every time. I could go on. 

But I won’t. We know that things are bad in the world. We’re committed to work for justice and act for peace. And we know, as the Apostle John says that Jesus knows, that human nature is fallible. In Jerusalem he did not trust himself to the crowds, did not need them to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. That is, we make mistakes. We may make some poor choices but we try to help one another stay on track. We still have the ten commandments to guide us.

That’s the matter-of-fact portion of today’s readings. It’s like my book report. Then there’s the mystical side. Paul says that Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles. Christ crucified and risen is the new order, changing everything. We obey the commandments out of love, not fear. Matthew quotes Jesus, ”’Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. [38] This is the first and great commandment. [39] And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [40] On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” [King James]

We are a foolish people. That’s the sum of it. We’ve staked our lives on Jesus crucified and risen. We believe that the greatest commandment is to love God and love one another. We share Jesus’ righteous anger in the temple, and we sold our fossil fuel stocks in what others see as a foolish attempt to turn over the capitalist tables. We established a conservation easement in another attempt to protect the land, even though we know it might be futile. And besides, we pray and sing and invite the pipeline procurers and the legislators to join us. We fast in an effort to end gun violence. We write letters and postcards to get out the vote. We’re foolish. And our foolish choice to love God and to love one another has given us lives of grace and joy. The psalmist is right that the law of the Lord is perfect.


Mary Ann McGivern SL

Mary Ann recently moved from St. Louis to the Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky. She is searching for entry points into Marian County, Ky., civic life — funding the day care center, improving jail services, helping stop a pipeline through Bernheim Forest. She is on the roster of homilists at Loretto Chapel’s Sunday Communion service. Mary Ann has been a Sister of Loretto since 1960.