Sunday Sermon for March 7, 2021, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B
Readings: Ex 20:1-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25
In the second reading today St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that their faith, based on the preaching of St. Paul, was in Jesus Christ crucified. The message of the crucified Lord was and is foolishness to some and a scandal to others. However, to us who have faith in Jesus, the message of the Cross demonstrates the wisdom and the power of God.
The natural response is to ask where is the wisdom of being crucified? Where is the power when the crucified One did not fight back and was defeated in the crucifixion? If we look at only the natural level, we find nothing but weakness and folly. After all, for the Romans, crucifixion was the ultimate form of humiliation. Even from the Jewish perspective, the High Priests and members of the Sanhedrin saw no wisdom or power in our Lord, and they saw even less in His crucifixion.
It requires the eyes of faith to recognize the wisdom and power of God. When we consider the events that took place right before the Israelites left Egypt and then the extraordinary events that took place at Sinai, it is very easy to see the power of God at work. However, once God had proven Himself, it was no longer necessary for Him to show His power or His wisdom in external ways. Instead, He is asking faith from us, the faith by which our Lord said we could move mountains.
The power of God was revealed in Jesus’ resurrection, but even that our Lord kept fairly hidden, showing Himself only to a select few. He revealed the wisdom of the Passion to His two disciples on the way to Emmaus and the temple of His glorified Body to the Eleven during one of His post-resurrection appearances. In order to “see” and to understand the power and the wisdom of God, we must first be able to perceive things in a spiritual manner.
If we look at things only in a natural, worldly way, David had no chance against Goliath, Jesus was put to death and everything His disciples hoped for was dashed, and when we die that is the end of our existence. David approached Goliath with faith in God Whom Goliath and those in league with him could not see. Brute strength was the force they thought would rule the day. Jesus went to the cross and, like the grain of wheat, was buried in the ground. His one life has given life to billions of people over the centuries and gives us hope and confidence in our own resurrection and participation in eternal life.
One of the mysteries of the spiritual life is that things are often the opposite of how they appear on the natural level. This is why God could tell St. Paul that power reaches its perfection in weakness. So, God chooses to remain hidden most of the time, but for those with faith, He is present all the time. He allows Himself to appear weak even when sin abounds and the devil appears to be winning. This is a test of our faith, hope, and charity. It is the way we are going to prove whether or not we are faithful to the Lord.
We know that our faith is not merely a matter of acceptance of the revelation of God, but also requires a means of expression. In other words, we must live our faith. In the first reading we have the Commandments the Lord has given to guide us in this world. Our fallen nature tends toward those things that are harmful to us. God has given us the means to do what is good and right. While it is possible to be an ethical pagan, for most people, faith in God helps us to see the truth and wisdom of the Commandments and strive to live according to them. Because the Commandments are founded on natural law, they are already written in our hearts, but it is amazing to see how many people find the Commandments to be offensive. Worldly wisdom and power does not want to be obedient to God; it wants only to satisfy its own desires. Because this “wisdom” and manner of life is not hidden, it appears to be stronger; it appears to be victorious.
The victor is the one who lives by faith. To the worldly, this is weakness. To those who understand the message of the Cross, it is the power and wisdom of God. Satisfying our own selfish desires at the expense of others may seem fulfilling, wise, and powerful at the moment, but it leaves us empty and, worse, moves us toward eternity in hell. Faith in Jesus Christ crucified looks weak and foolish, but it fulfills us now and for eternity.
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 www.thewandererpress.com.