Dear friends in Christ in the Archdiocese of Regina, and all listeners, warm greetings. We are now two weeks into Lent, and the church extends a word to us, to persevere in opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit on this Lenten journey.
This coming Sunday, the third Sunday of Lent, we will hear St. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple. And at the end of the Gospel reading, there’s a sentence that jumped out at me this year – in part because I was working with a different translation of the Bible. It’s interesting how different translations can bring new insights and allow us to hear new things in the text. The translation I’m used to working with, the NRSV on which our lectionary is based, leads us to understand that Jesus knew what was in the hearts of those who were critical of his actions, when it says that he “needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” But the NAB makes the statement more general: Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.”
The Lord knows the human heart. God knows us, knows us well, knows us better than we know ourselves. As the wonderful Psalm 139 proclaims:
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you.
For it was you who created my innermost being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
There is great consolation in this. God knows our wounds, the ones that are deepest within us; knows our deepest desires, the ones that motivate us most profoundly; knows our gifts, our joys, our sins, our brokenness, our dreams. I sometimes pray these words from William Wordsworth, celebrating the human condition authored and loved by God:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
But God also knows that the human heart needs work, our hearts need work, need transformation and renewal. Jesus doesn’t go into our hearts as he went into the temple, throwing out everything that doesn’t belong there, but the Holy Spirit would like to have a go at uncluttering the temple of our hearts. I think it is the Holy Spirit that whispers to me each Lent that old Chinese proverb, ‘if you do not change directions, you are likely to end up where you are heading.’
After Jesus had cleansed the temple, those present asked him for a sign to show what authority he had to go into the temple and throw out the money changers. They are in effect saying give us a sign that allows us to believe in you. He responds enigmatically, mysteriously, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus is asked for a sign, he says the only sign he will give them is the sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of the whale.
What sign do we look for that would allow us to trust more deeply that God is lovingly present in our lives? What sign would ease our doubts and lift our fears? As it was for the disciples who followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, so to for us – the ultimate sign Jesus gives a paschal sign. It’s about dying and rising. It is the lived sign of being willing to give himself completely in love, unto death. And the revelation that death is not the last word for God, that after three days, Jesus is raised from the dead. The full revelation of God in Jesus’ dying and rising addresses directly the deepest questions that arise from our human experience, questions about suffering and injustice and death.
In this coming Sunday’s second reading, St. Paul says that while others seek signs and look for wisdom, “we proclaim Christ crucified,” which will seem foolish, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
This coming Friday, March 5, is the World Day of Prayer, and its theme this year is ‘Build on a Strong Foundation.’ When we pray, we may look for specific outcomes that seem good to us. I believe that God does answer our prayers, but not by allowing us to bypass suffering and death. God draws us into the paschal experience that life is stronger than death, that God can bring life from the ashes of our brokenness. On the cross, Jesus entered into the place of greatest vulnerability. And God invites us too into places of great vulnerability, not to abandon us, but to reveal to us what resurrection might look like in the face of our deepest wounds and brokenness.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit into your lives anew this Lent, asking the Spirit to cleanse our hearts and lead us to a deeper trust in God and in the life God gives us. Join me in praying, if you will, this prayer of Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.
Watch the video message HERE