Third Sunday of Lent – Year B

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Raymond F. Dlugos, O.S.A.
Merrimack College
North Andover, Massachusetts

Readings
Ex 20:1-17 or Ex 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17
Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
1 Cor 1:22-25
Jn 2:13-25

“For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God.”

What a striking revelation from this God in the act of engaging us in the work of building a covenant relationship. We can easily take it as a threat meant to scare us into obeying the commandments, especially that first one about having other gods ahead of this God. But perhaps something else is happening in this very personal self-disclosure on the part of God.

Jealousy is not usually considered a flattering, positive quality or a helpful tendency to bring into a relationship. Often it is a sign of mistrust and suspicion, of insecurity and immaturity, of self-doubt and an inordinate desire to exert control over another so that they conform to our wishes. Jealousy is far more revelatory of the one who is jealous that the one who might be the cause of this emotional reaction. Jealousy is an emotional response born of a fear of being hurt, abandoned, or betrayed as well as from shame that suggests that we are not good enough to be the subject of another’s unconditional love. Typically, jealousy is not a good foundation for a strong and enduring relationship.

And yet the first thing that our God reveals about his personality is that he is jealous. Despite the power God has displayed to his people in rescuing them from slavery to the most powerful nation on the earth, leading them and feeding them on the their journey to Mount Sinai – where they find themselves on this day and witnessing the manifestation of his awesome power and glory is that deep in his heart – this powerful, almighty, all glorious God is pathetically vulnerable and fragile and maybe even frightened. God is jealous.

God further reveals that his jealousy does cause him to feel deep and intense anger, and in the story of the Exodus and the ongoing story of Israel as told to us through the Prophets, we are told of God’s deep hurt and disappointment, which leads to this anger (and even rage) as it inevitably does in all of us. But at the same time, rising from the depths of love that has made God so vulnerable in the first place, is a mercy and compassion that is even deeper than that rage.

And so we meet on Mount Sinai a God who is inviting us into relationship and is emotionally involved with us and toward us at a profoundly passionate level. This God is no cold, lifeless statue like the idols we may put before him, but love itself, a love that is never cold and unfeeling, never just rational and logical, never satisfied with a justice that only gives what we deserve. From this great depth of emotion toward us, God continually makes foolish choices to stay with us, search for us, wait for us to return or to turn around, and give himself up for our sake. Here we see the great truth of Paul’s assertion that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

That our God is not only passionately jealous but also profoundly foolish is the best good news we could possibly hope for.

This foolish passion of God is on full display in Jesus as he rages in the temple, not out of control but fully aware of the implications and consequences of his actions, condemning its description as a marketplace where transactions occur instead of a place where gifts are freely given and we are invited to receive without paying and without cost. He is reacting to a sad tragedy that we have distorted the covenant relationship with God into a lose-lose situation where neither we nor God are able to enjoy the freedom, the peace, and the joy that are the whole purpose of the relationship in the first place. And he appears totally foolish in his zeal, risking his life for what might only be a temporary win.

And so we have a jealous, foolish, calculatedly reckless God who will stop at nothing to keep a relationship of love with us alive. Despite our efforts to distort, desecrate, and diminish the magnitude of this relationships, God will not be dismayed from loving us, no matter how we exasperate him with our petty foolishness that thinks we can get away with worshiping gods that only take from us and never give.

In light of that, who are really the foolish, silly, immature, and insecure ones? Of course, this is no surprise to God or to Jesus, who understood everything about human nature, and yet refuses to not offer everything for our sake. While we may turn away to other things that are not God, God will never turn away from us – no matter how foolish that makes God.