Saturday, March 14, 2009

On Our Behalf

(3rd Sunday of Lent, B)

In the first reading today, from the book of Exodus, we hear one of the versions of the Commandments. The “Ten Commandments” as they are traditionally called are the imperatives God gives us as the basis of revealed morality for human society. We are meant to adhere to and follow the Commandments because they enshrine the foundations of personal happiness and the flourishing of human culture.

So, how are we doing? Now I now I haven’t, but is there anyone here who has kept all the Commandments perfectly since arriving at the age of reason? How about anyone who has kept the Commandments since, say, making good resolutions for the New Year? Maybe there’s someone who has kept God’s Commandments perfectly so far today?

See, brothers and sisters, this is the spiritual tragedy of our lives; we have not kept God’s Commandments, but have instead persisted in our idolatries, our vanities, our inanities, and our plain old sins. This is why, instead of being the joyful, happy, and free people God would delight to have us be, so many go through their days depressed, anxious, lonely, and fearful.

As it is in our morality, so it is in our worship too. We gather here in this church to pray together and to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Yes, we’re fervent. Yes, the church itself is very beautiful. But do we think that our prayers and our worship are worthy of God? No. We could never be zealous enough or free enough from distraction and mixed motives for our worship to be worthy of the surpassing glory and holiness of the God we try to praise.

But here’s the good news. In his astounding mercy, God has made our very inability to follow his moral standards and the very inadequacy of our worship the starting point of our salvation. And this brings us to the gospel we hear today, of this incident of Jesus at the Temple for the feast of Passover. The Second Temple in Jerusalem was the greatest edifice for the honor and praise of Almighty God that human beings have ever constructed and used. But even the Temple, just like our prayer, could never offer worship that was fully worthy of God.

So Jesus proclaims that from then on, it is his he himself will be the Temple: “he was talking about the Temple of his body.” And on the Cross it is Jesus who will offer perfect obedience and worship to the Father as he becomes himself the one perfect temple, the one perfect priest, and the one perfect sacrifice.

This is the good news for us, brothers and sisters. In order to save us from the tragedy of our failure to live up to God’s commandments and our inability to offer God adequate worship, the Word of God himself has borrowed our humanity and done these things on our behalf in the Passion of Jesus Christ. On the Cross, Jesus offers to the Father the sacrifice of perfect obedience. And for us who have not yet learned to be perfect in our obedience and our worship, he has left this same sacrifice of the Cross as our food. This is what happens here at Mass. We receive into our very bodies the perfect sacrifice of Christ, so that we too might become empowered beyond ourselves to live God’s commandments and to offer God more perfect praise.


malcs said...

Many thanks from a Presbyterian Minister in New Zealand. I'm trying to help my congregation grapple with the priestly nature of Christ, and your thoughts were very helpful. Blessings.

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for your blessing and encouragement! May your congregation be blessed as well!