HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR B
HOMILY THEME: LOOKING FOR SIGNS?
BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
One Sunday morning I set out very early to go for a 7.00am Mass in a Parish that was about 110 Kilometres away. The road was very smooth and wide and there were only a few cars on the road at that time. The signposts on the road clearly indicated 100kph as speed limit. From time to time, I noticed my speedometre was moving beyond the stipulated limit towards 120-140kph and so I had to keep adjusting my foot on the accelerator to avoid trouble with the Police. I wished the signposts were not there, so I could move at a speed I wanted and arrive my destination a little earlier than the estimated arrival time.
However, I realised the signposts indicating speed limits were there as reminders against excessive speed in order to keep drivers and other road users safe. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed by so many laws, including traffic laws. All societies and cultures have laws and ordinances, and ancient societies were no different. For example, the Jewish Torah contains 613 laws. Some of these laws are positive (what a person ought to do) and others are negative (prohibitions – actions that are not allowed). In these 613 laws, 248 are positive, a number that corresponds to the number of bones and principal organs in the body; 365 of the 613 laws are negative laws which tally with the number of days in a year.
Unlike the 613 laws of the Torah, the Ten Commandments were by far easier to remember and memorise. These Ten Commandments served as signposts to guide the people in their social and spiritual life. Further, the commandments encouraged them to have a good relationship with God, by discarding other gods; it encouraged them to keep the Sabbath Holy and discouraged them from misusing God’s name. The Commandments clearly spelt out the rules of engagement with neighbours, such as showing respect for one another, and particularly for parents, elders and superiors. These laws further warned people against killing, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness against neighbour and against coveting neighbour’s wife and property.
As social and spiritual beings, these laws generally serve as Divine blueprint to regulate our tendency to always act according to our whims, caprices and unruly desires. The Ten Commandments are not just a set of ordinary rules, but they are signposts towards a better social and spiritual life. What can we do without signs and signposts guiding us? In C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, an elderly demon says to a younger demon: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
As signposts, these Commandments are essentially guidelines for a perfect relationship with God and an honest relationship with neighbour. Jesus summarises these Ten Commandments into two:
1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
2. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (cf. Mark 12:30-31).
The Commandments were enough signposts for a happy life and yet the ancient Jews demanded for signs (1 Corinthians 1:22). They failed to see that Jesus was the sign of God’s presence among them – the image of God whom we cannot see (Colossians 1:15). He was not only a sign of God’s presence, but also a sign of contradiction (Luke 2:34). He overhauled the culture, business, religious and intellectual traditions that were contrary to God’s original plan for humankind. Jesus expressed his anger dramatically by whipping those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the moneychangers in the temple and overturned their tables. He was disappointed at how they desecrated the hallowed precincts of the temple with their ungodly activities. He was deeply concerned about the excessive greed and corruption of those business people. He was unhappy about how business excluded and dethroned God from commercial activities. He was obviously sad to see how religious and business people enthroned money as the new god, which they worshipped.
Jesus was a sign of contradiction for the world. He changed the world’s shallow ideas about God, religion and worship. He changed people’s conception about the law and summarised the countless number of laws into two – love of God and neighbour. He invites us also to be signs of contradiction in a world that is drifting away from truth. An Editorial of Catholic Herald (July 11, 2003) says: “We are not set on this earth to help a fallen world function smoothly. If we are not signs of contradiction, we are nothing.” Therefore, all believers are called to be signs of contradiction in a world where materialism has taken the centre stage and where “many live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18).
Today, it is clearly evident that selfless and humble people who embrace the contradiction of the cross continue to serve as light, beacons and signposts of Divine presence among us.
3rd Sunday of Lent/Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 • John 2:13-22