Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
A new phenomenon in our days is voluntary migration. The human desire to dwell where there is peace and guarantee of peace. There is no one measure of what constitutes peace, but when people migrate willingly, they choose the reasons for their migration. God proposes the best way to peace—Commandments—and invites us to migrate to the zone of peace—LOVE. The zone of peace is the place of God’s commandments or the zone of the Cross. This Sunday is “Gift-of-God Sunday”, because God offers humanity the gifts of Commandments and the Cross/LOVE. The migratory path to peace and security is to dwell with God in LOVE.
For Jews and Christians, “Egypt” is synonymous with slavery and oppression. It is a place to flee from in search of an el dorado. Even God supports the human attempt to flee from Egypt, so he intervenes to liberate those enslaved from Egypt. It is not only Egypt as a place that is the problem, but Egyptians too share in the bad name given to Egypt. The citizens of Egypt tell a story of human nature and its tendencies to oppress the weak and enrich oneself on the wings of slavery. Egypt and Egyptians tell us about our contemporary struggle with all kinds of oppressions, enslavements and exploitations of the weak and those on the margins. It is the story of sin and crimes and how to address situations of humans’ inhumanity to others.
Our first reading talks about the giving of the commandments of God to Israel. Oppression and slavery called for the first suing for peace—Commandments. The lawlessness leading to the servitude of Israelites in Egypt grounds God’s provision of laws as a way towards peace. Commandments as peace-contract keep wobbling because human beings are good at disobedience, on the terms of God’s commandments. Even today, we have evolved a “police state” to make us obedient to laws, yet laws get flouted daily. In Jesus Christ, however, God proposes a new path to peace, a new commandment that gets written in the heart and directs and prompts human actions — LOVE.
The competition for hegemony between the Jewish quest for miracles and the Greek crave for wisdom, according to our second reading, directs our minds to human search for peace and tranquility. While the Jews seek miracles as God’s approbation for what is right and admirable, Greeks activate their intelligence in their pursuit of what is the best approach to peace and unity. Paul attributes to the power of love, through the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Christian approach to peace and mutual co-existence. The love that drove Jesus to the Cross of Calvary is Paul’s proposal for world peace! If every human being were to be as selfless and generous with his/her life in the service of others, there will be world and communal peace. It is the willing acceptance of inconveniences as crosses, in imitation of Jesus’ Cross and love of humanity, that is the solution to the peace that continuously eludes humanity.
God’s punishment of Egyptians, whether through the death of their first born children or the sea that closed over them, is not a sign of God’s hatred for the Egyptians; on the contrary, God punishes every act of inhumanity towards others. Our gospel demonstrates that everyone in the wrong sometimes gets a whipping or walloping from God. It was the whip or cane that drove some sense into the money changers, who exploit worshippers at the Temple today, so much so that they interrogated Jesus on the meaning of the walloping they got: “At this the Jews answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’” Instead of a death sentence, correction and an invitation to reform their ways is the example of what Jesus did in the gospel today. The intention to die for the salvation of sinners, “destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up”, trumps punishment in the action of Jesus in whipping people. It is an example of the English proverb—“spare the rod and spoil the child”. The reform of the character of a child is the aim of the “rod” and not the infliction of pain and bodily harm.
The Sunday of the “Gift-of-God”, the name we give to this 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B, 2021, gives a positive meaning to the laws of God beyond the negation of freedom. It encourages the obliteration of every structure of oppression, not only in the political arena, but also in the Church, the symbol of the cleansing of the Temple in today’s gospel. The exercise of freedom must be the right to migrate from every kind of oppression and the duty to eradicate and topple unjust structures through the power of love, even when we need to carry crosses like Jesus in order to achieve peace and mutual co-existence. Instead of the laws, let us see the power of love changing our lives together and making us respect one another, despite our differences.
The “Gift-of-God Sunday” is God’s double proposals to us 1) to abdicate our roles as Egyptians or our citizenships or powers that make us oppressors, enslavers and colonizers of others, and 2) to migrate from “Egypt” or the character or behavior or that place where oppression, evil and sin hold sway and opt for that behavior of love, where charity, humility, sacrifice, forgiveness, patience, etc. reign supreme. In other words, the “Gift-of-God Sunday” invites us to imitate Jesus Christ, the New Law of God, through whose life and examples, we see and learn what it means to live according to God’s purposes for us and the world. Therefore, commandments are no longer letters of injunctions, but a model, Jesus Christ, to follow. Consequently, we do not have laws to keep, we have character and virtues to build. Hence, “Gift-of-God Sunday” is about the imitation of Christ, that love of God that became man to show us the how to migrate to the Father, God himself!
By Fr. Ayodele Ayeni, a Spiritan