Sunday Sermon for March 8, 2015, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B

Readings: Ex 20:1-17; 1Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25
In the Gospel reading today we hear about our Lord cleansing the Temple because the people had turned God’s house into a marketplace. The people, naturally, were appalled at this action because the buying and selling in the Temple had become the norm. Beyond that, it was providing a real service because not everyone in Israel had livestock that they could offer as a sacrifice to the Lord. The services provided by the merchants was filling a definite need. Such is the human rationalization.

In the second reading St. Paul tells us that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Jesus was probably thought to be rather foolish, or worse, as He drove out the animals and overturned the tables of the money changers. He was undermining their businesses and their profit, so He was held in contempt. Beyond this, He was telling them that what they were doing was wrong. They did not want to hear that. Sadly, neither do we.

It is quite obvious that in our human “wisdom” we have found God’s ways to be foolish. We have rationalized our way around many things, convincing ourselves that what we are doing is okay because it has either become the norm or we see that there is some perceived good in what we are doing. What am I talking about? The first reading lays out for us the Ten Commandments. These commandments address the issues of our relationships with other persons: the first three with God, the latter seven with neighbor.

We have found convenient ways around all of these, but I want to focus on the first three. The first commandment is the most important: there is only one God and we are to have no false gods. Today we have people going to psychics, palm readers, tarot card readers, practitioners of New Age healing, playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, Ouija Boards, Pokemon, and various forms of magic. We have people who go to Mass on Sunday morning going out to concerts by bands who sing Satanic music, others who read (and believe) their horoscope each day. I have even read articles by priests and bishops defending and encouraging the reading of Harry Potter.

All of these violate the First Commandment, but we find ways to justify ourselves: “But I like it,” “But everyone is doing it;” “Well, it’s not as bad as…;” “Come on, Father, it’s the twenty first century.” This really is not any different from the responses Jesus would have received in the Temple. While it may be true that the people who do these things do not profess belief in another god, they are, nonetheless, in violation of God’s first commandment.

Moving on to the second commandment, have you heard of a movie lately that does not use God’s Name in vain? Even among those who frequent the social media, there is the ubiquitous use of the three letters that violate the second commandment. I know, everyone is doing it. No one means any harm by it. It is not intentionally or maliciously using God’s Name irreverently. Once again, human rationalization to get around God’s commandments. Whenever I go through an examination of conscience with a group of young people, I ask them to think about using their mother’s name when they get angry at someone, when they are surprised, when they want to emphasize some point, etc. None of us would do that because we love our mother’s too much. We are to love God above all else; if we use His Name in vain, what does this tell us about how much we love Him?

How about the third commandment? I travel about a half hour on Sunday mornings to say Mass. I pass by a number of stores, businesses and a golf course. Every Sunday I have the same experience of feeling crestfallen at seeing the parking lots of these places full. I suspect that if I drove past some of the suburban churches in those areas, I would find plenty of parking spots. Not at the Malls, the stores or the golf course. Some will object that they went to Mass already. We are not supposed to be shopping, working, or doing or causing others to do any unnecessary labor on Sunday.

I find it most interesting that while many people do not follow the other seven commandments very well, they will usually admit to the fact that their violations are wrong. But when it comes to the commandments that directly address our relationship with God, I rarely hear anyone admit to wrongdoing. Instead, I hear rationalizations to justify why it is okay. This is nothing more than human wisdom demonstrating its foolishness. The devil has convinced us that God’s ways are foolish, but His foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit