Most of us are familiar with the first reading for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, from the Old Testament book of Exodus. God gives to us through Moses the Ten Commandments. Most of us have had to memorize those either in Sunday school or religion class. We have become very steeped in those Old Testament rules of what to do and what not to do.
Those laws have given us great guidance since that time, and we continue to make them a part of our lives every day. Some use them as an examination of conscience as we prepare for the sacrament of reconciliation. These are great guidance for ways to live day by day.
We would be mistaken if we have simply let our spiritual lives and the formation of our minds and hearts be frozen at the point of the Ten Commandments. Jesus taught that He did not intend to do away with the law or the prophets, but He meant to bring them to fulfillment.
So we see in the reading from the Gospel of John one of those instances where Jesus tries to use His life as an example of how to keep growing in faith and love. In Jesus’ clearing of the temple, He encourages people to go beyond the sacrificial offering goats and sheep and dogs to a more mature offering of a heart that is humble and contrite. It might be time for us to go beyond bartering for our eternity and instead allow the love of Jesus to transform our minds and hearts. Once we do that, we will be motivated by love in return rather than fear.
We are reminded once again in the Scriptures this weekend that God’s wisdom is beyond our wisdom. If you haven’t had the opportunity to let go of some level of arrogance within you, now might be the time to do it. It might be hard to hear that there is something beyond the Ten Commandments that we are being asked to do and to live. It doesn’t mean to throw out the Ten Commandments but to be led by them to an even deeper way of life. In this Lenten season, when we are being asked to pray, fast and give alms, have you made a choice to go beyond what you have always done with those spiritual practices? Is your motivation for doing the spiritual practices beyond simply bartering with God for your eternal reward?
The Gospel this weekend seems to be calling us to clear out the practices that are keeping us from deepening our relationship with Jesus. For some of us, that might be outright sinfulness, but for most of us it is simply doing the same thing over and over and over again and not letting the wisdom of God push us beyond our comfort zones and our normal behavior.
It might take some quiet time to listen to the urgings of your mind and heart. What is being brought to your mind and heart in the midst of your prayer? Is there something being brought to your attention that you refuse to examine because you know it means that you would need to change and grow, and you’re unwilling to embrace that uncomfortability? Are you being urged to declutter your life so that there might be room for God and fewer roadblocks for Jesus to have access to you?
Instead of waiting for change to be demanded of you, why not make a choice right now to be open to growing in grace and holiness? Instead of always acting like victims, let’s be the ones who act and choose to open the way for a deeper walk with Jesus. If we take a moment to be quiet and invite God to speak to us, most of us know what He’s already been telling us to do and to be and to say. This might actually be the week, in the midst of this unusual season of Lent, that we allow Jesus to clear the way for more of His presence in our lives. Take the invitation. Be not afraid!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.