Third Sunday of Lent (B)
March 07, 2021
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.




O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness,
who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Reading  EX 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
"I, the LORD am your God, 
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
"You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished 
the one who takes his name in vain.

"Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Honor your father and your mother, 
that you may have a long life in the land 
which the Lord, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, 
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, 
nor anything else that belongs to him.

Responsorial Psalm PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11.

R/. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple. R/.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye. R/.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just. R/.

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb. R/.

Second Reading 1 COR 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 
but we proclaim Christ crucified, 
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, 
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, 
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Verse Before The Gospel JN 3:16


Gospel JN 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, 
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, 
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables, 
and to those who sold doves he said,
"Take these out of here, 
and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, 
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
"What sign can you show us for doing this?"
Jesus answered and said to them, 
"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
The Jews said, 
"This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, 
and you will raise it up in three days?"
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, 
his disciples remembered that he had said this, 
and they came to believe the Scripture 
and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, 
many began to believe in his name 
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, 
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.

Reflection Questions

  1. Which of the commandments do you think meets the most resistance in our culture?
  2. How do you experience Christ as the “power” and “wisdom” of God?
  3. How are you zealous for the things of God?

Catena Nova

Christ is zealous for God’s house in each one of us. He does not want the house of prayer to be a place for money-changers or to become a den of thieves, as He is the Son of a jealous God… These words make it clear that God does not want anything foreign to mix with His will in the soul of any one of us, especially the souls of those who desire to accept the teachings of the divine faith (Origen of Alexandria).

God does not want His temple to be a market, but a house of holiness....He taught that the Church should not make a place for worldly commerce, and so He expelled the money-changers in particular, those who seek profit from God’s money and are unable to distinguish between good and evil (St. Ambrose of Milan).

To pray in God’s temple we must pray in the peace of the Church, in the unity of the body of Christ, which is made up of many believers throughout the world. All who believe in this way are like the living stones which go to build God’s temple, and like the rot-proof timber used in the framework of the ark which the flood waters could not submerge. It is in this temple, that is, in ourselves, that prayer is addressed to God and heard by him.... Our Lord’s driving out of the temple people who were seeking their own ends, who came to the temple to buy and sell, is symbolic. For if that temple was a symbol it obviously follows that the body of Christ, the true temple of which the other was an image, has within it some who are buyers and sellers, or in other words, people who are seeking their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ. But the temple was not destroyed by the people who wanted to turn the house of God into a den of thieves, and neither will those who live evil lives in the Catholic Church and do all they can to convert God’s house into a robber’s den succeed in destroying the temple. The time will come when they will be driven out by a whip made of their own sins. The temple of God, this body of Christ, this assembly of believers, has but one voice, and sings the psalms as though it were but one person. If we wish, it is our voice; if we wish, we may listen to the singer with our ears and ourselves sing in our hearts. But if we choose not to do so it will mean that we are like buyers and sellers, preoccupied with our own interests (St. Augustine of Hippo).

When the gospel texts are read straight through with a view to discovering the attitude of Jesus towards the Temple and all it represented, two apparently contradictory features become immediately apparent: Jesus’ immense respect for the Temple; his very lively criticism of abuses and of formalism, yet above and beyond this, his constantly repeated assertion that the Temple is to be transcended, that it has had its day, and that it is doomed to disappear (Fr. Yves Congar).

The temple is the place where the gracious presence of God condescends to dwell among men, and also the place where God receives his people. Both aspects of the temple are fulfilled only in the Incarnation. Here is the real presence of God in bodily form, as well as the new humanity, for Christ has taken that humanity upon himself in his own body. From this it follows that the Body of Christ is the place of acceptance, the place of atonement and peace between God and humanity. God finds humans in the Body of Christ, and humans find themselves accepted by God in that same body. The Body of Christ is the spiritual temple built out of living stones (I Pet. 2.5). Christ is its sole foundation and comer-stone ( Eph. 2.20; I Cor. 3.11) but at the same time he is in his Person the temple (Eph. 2.21), in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, replenishing and sanctifying the hearts of the faithful (I Cor. 3.16; 6.19). The temple of God is the holy people in Jesus Christ. The Body of Christ is the living temple of God and of the new humanity (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

[The overturning of the money-changers’ tables] would have provoked astonishment, since it will have called into question the very simple fact that the daily whole offering [known as the tamid] effected atonement and brought about expiation for sin, and God had so instructed Moses in the Torah. Accordingly, only someone who rejected the Torah’s explicit teaching concerning the daily whole offering could have overturned the tables—or, as I shall suggest, someone who had in mind setting up a different table, and for a different purpose: for the action carries the entire message, both negative and positive. ... The overturning of the moneychangers’ tables represents an act of rejection of the most important rite of the Israelite cult, the daily whole-offering, and, therefore, a statement that there is a means of atonement other than the daily whole offering, which is now null. Then what was to take the place of the daily whole-offering? It was to be the rite of the Eucharist: table for table, whole offering for whole offering (Jacob Neusner).

When asked to explain his actions, Jesus said: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19) This literalist interpretation is promptly debunked by the evangelist when he says that Jesus was “speaking of the temple of his body” (John 2: 21). So much for biblical literalism. The implication that Jesus is replacing the temple with his risen body is a strong indication that he intended to abolish the sacrificial cult. What was wrong with the sacrificial cult? The quote from Psalm 69 “zeal for your house will consume me” shows us the problem if we note the context. Psalm 69 begins with “Save me O God for the waters have risen up to my neck.” The psalmist tells God that he is suffering the same reproach people level against God: “the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” This psalm is referred to as one of the “passion psalms” and has been interpreted as a prophecy of Christ. However, I don’t think the psalmist was gazing into a crystal ball and seeing Christ’s Passion; I think the psalmist was complaining about collective violence that was happening to him at the time. The number of persecution psalms and the fate of many prophets, suggests that the Gospels are revealing the human tendency to solve social conflicts by uniting against a victim which is precisely the outcome Jesus predicts when he explains his actions at the temple.... The logic of sacrifice was that some living being was always dispensable precisely as the victims of collective violence at the times of social crises were dispensable and their deaths “necessary.” Caiaphas stated the sacrificial logic baldly when he said that it was better “to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:50) In modern times this sacrificial logic is expressed by the regretful term “collateral damage.” [He] was willing to sacrifice Jesus and anyone else who put a spoke in the wheel of the sacrificial logic. Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself rather than sacrifice any of us. That is why we do not slaughter bulls on this altar but pass around the bread and wine through which Jesus gives His very self to each one of us (Abbot Andrew Marr).


Spring Cleaning

            Will they come back?  I suspect that’s the question on the minds of most clergy once the restrictions on church attendance are lifted.  Early indications are there will be a modest drop-off at most.  Pew Research reported that “the pandemic will not produce widespread, lasting changes in patterns of attendance at religious services” (August 7, 2020).  Financial support seems to be holding its own.  The local diocese has raised over 82% of $7 million for its annual appeal.  Some ministries, like the more than 150 Catholic schools which have closed due to the pandemic nationwide are, however, showing the strain of financial pressure.

            And I realize it’s too early to tell what the long-term effects of the pandemic will be on church life, but I suspect “business as usual” is an unrealistic expectation.  This coupled with the severe rates of attrition among young people will prove a daunting challenge.  For after teaching religious studies at a putatively “Catholic” college for almost two decades, with my classes attended largely by students with some church background, my observation by and large was, “There is no next generation of Catholics.” And while the “college pause” is a well-known phenomenon when it comes to church attendance, most of my students had already dropped out often due to sports and work commitments, or else simply following their parents’ own disaffected lead.  Of course, most of them would assure you that they are “spiritual but not religious.”

            So at a conference last year on church reform held at Georgetown University, Argentine Father Augusto Zampini, a member of the Vatican’s COVID-19 commission, remarked, “We cannot be the same institution in a different world. We need to be able to say something new, because the word of God is always new.”  To which Father Antonio Spadaro, the director of the Jesuit-ran La Civiltà Cattolica magazine, added “The reform of the Church has to be a radical missionary transformation of the Church” (Crux; September 1, 2020).  I hope he has in mind those 59% of millennials raised in a church who have dropped out, including the 35% percent who have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good (Faith It; April 4, 2018).

            Now these developments would have come as no surprise to Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a victim of Nazi persecution, who noted in the middle of the last century that, “We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’”

            Of course, he was speaking largely of the secularized West – religion is alive and well in many parts of the world, especially in Muslim countries and in the Southern Hemisphere -- Africa in particular.  To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Rumors of religion’s demise are greatly exaggerated.”

            Still, I think Bonhoeffer was on to something in his prediction of what he called “religionless” Christianity. And I hope the forum participants mentioned earlier might listen to Bonhoeffer in their call for a “missionary transformation” and finding “something new to say.”  I hope they would attend to Bonhoeffer in his musings and questions about

what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience – and that means the time of religion in general.... How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well? Are there religionless Christians? If religion is only a garment of Christianity – and even this garment has looked very different at times – then what is a religionless Christianity?  (Letters and Papers from Prison).

            The answers to such questions are what, I think, lay behind the incident in today’s gospel.  John, unlike the other evangelists, places the “cleansing of the temple” at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry rather than during Holy Week.  In doing so, John suggests that this demonstration was programmatic for Jesus’ mission and not simply what caught the temple authorities’ eye leading to the execution of a dangerous troublemaker out to upset their cozy relationship with the Romans.

            Jesus’ attempt to overturn the sacrificial system that ran the Jerusalem temple was, in my view, a protest against religious formalism with its reliance on external practices in favor of the heart of religion, worship he would call “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24) and that has no need of a temple to house it.  By relocating “religion” to the temple of his body, the “outer garments” religion wears were relativized.  One might even call it a “religionless” religion insofar as the external forms are secondary to the substance.

            And let’s be honest.  So much of what surrounds Christianity is just such a “garment,” one that can often obscure what it adorns, a garment that may well have gone out of style, a period piece that is best admired in a museum but is ill-fitting today.  Worse, when these “institutional” aspects of Christianity are mistaken as ends rather than means, when window dressing is taken for the essentials, then we can't be surprised when people react with incomprehension and even ridicule.  So either we update the wardrobe or the message will appeal only to antiquarians and nostalgists who seem not to notice the temple is no longer standing. 


Intercessions (Peter Scagnelli; Prayers for Sundays and Seasons)

Let us come in prayer before the Lord our God, whose steadfast love embraces all generations.

That those who control worldly power may attend to the law of God and respond to the needs of the lowly.

That the innocent victims of greed and violence may find, in Christ crucified, new strength in their suffering and, in Christ’s disciples, wise allies in their struggle.

That those among us whose work is in the marketplace may witness to the truth of the commandments, the wisdom of the gospel.

That our Lenten observance may increase our zeal for God’s house and deepen our dedication to the word Jesus has spoken.

That those who in life were fashioned as living stones into the temple of Christ body may be raised up from death to eternal joy with Christ.

Holy God, the folly of the cross  mocks our human wisdom, and the weakness of the crucified puts worldly power to shame. Banish from our hearts every pretense of might and of knowledge, that by the power flowing from Christ’s resurrection your people may be raised up from the death of sin and fashioned into a living temple of your glory. Grant this through Christ our Lord.  Amen. (ICEL; 1998)

Interlude (Marty Haugen)


Return to God with all your heart, the source of grace and mercy;
Come seek the tender faithfulness of God.

Now the time of grace has come, the day of salvation;
Come and learn now the way of our God.

I will take your heart of stone and place a heart within you,
A heart of compassion and love.

If you break the chains of oppression,
If you set the pris’ner free;
If you share your bread with the hungry,
Give protection to the lost;
Give shelter to the homeless,
Clothe the naked in your midst,
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray in spirit and in truth the words Jesus taught us....

Spiritual Communion

We come before you, Lord, the dwelling-place of God among us.  We long to worship together with those whom you join to your risen Body in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Fill us nevertheless with the presence of your Spirit who makes us temples wherein you dwell.  Strengthen our zeal for the House of God and drive from it all that defiles it as we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of your death and resurrection.     



Closing Hymn(American Folk Hymn)