Sunday Sermon for March 3, 2024, 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 tells us that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified.”  Neither of these things is bad or problematic.  For instance, when we look at the Gospel reading, we hear the Jews asking our Lord for a sign to justify His actions in turning over the tables of the vendors in the Temple.  Is this a crazed lunatic, is this a zealot with an agenda, is this someone looking for attention, or is this someone God has sent? 

We can ask the same kind of questions about the wisdom of someone or something.  Does this make sense, does it seem reasonable, is this explanation acceptable?  Jesus worked many signs, but the Jewish authorities ignored them.  Many people believed in our Lord, but the leaders, for the most part, did not.  In fact, because of the signs Jesus worked, the leaders wanted to put Him to death.  In other words, it was more convenient to get rid of Jesus than to go through the internal struggle that would be required to believe in Him.

So, although they looked for signs, no sign was sufficient for them.  It is precisely the point of the old saying: For one with faith, no proof is necessary; for those without faith, no proof will be sufficient.  In case this might make us think seeking wisdom would be a better idea, there are several different kinds of wisdom: there is a certain kind of street wisdom, there is natural or human kind of wisdom, and there is a spiritual wisdom.  St. Paul reminds us that spiritual wisdom cannot be understood by someone who looks only on the natural level.

So, when St. Paul talks about the Cross, it seems like foolishness, indeed, utter madness, to someone who seeks only a natural kind of wisdom. Signs don’t work and wisdom doesn’t work.  This is because the Lord surpasses both of these.  Signs can certainly point to the truth of Who He is and we can apply wisdom to what is known about Him to determine whether or not it makes sense, but to believe in the Lord requires an act of the will that far surpasses either of these.

Just look at the first reading.  The Ten Commandments are certainly reasonable and inherently wise.  The giving of the Commandments was surrounded with a multitude of signs.  Still, the people who saw the signs did not turn away from their sinfulness; the wisdom imparted by the Commandments was not enough for them to believe in God Whose wisdom is revealed in these Commandments. 

If a person were wise, he could choose to live a good life in keeping with the Commandments just because they make sense.  However, without faith in God Who revealed the Commandments, even if the person lived a good life, it would not be sufficient to get to Heaven.  People who are decent but have no faith could be considered “ethical pagans.”  This is why St. Paul talks about proclaiming Christ crucified.  Christ is the power and wisdom of God, but to accept Him and believe in Him require something beyond what is natural.

Those who look for signs or wisdom will always find our faith in Jesus to be weak or foolish.  After all, they might reason, if Jesus is God, He would not have allowed Himself to be treated as He was, He would have retaliated and wiped out the people who crucified Him.  What we see in this kind of reasoning is not only that they are looking at Jesus in a natural way, but more than that, they do not understand the love of God. 

Many of us are able to see the wisdom, the power, and the love of God in the Passion of our Lord, but then we fail to apply this to ourselves and our own circumstances when we are asked to carry the Cross.  Sometimes we question why God would allow this, sometimes we object that it is not fair, sometimes we fail to see beyond the natural level and completely miss what God is doing with the suffering in our lives by giving us the opportunity to share in the Cross of Christ 

When we share in the Cross of Christ, we are participating in the work of salvation.  We can unite our suffering with the suffering of our Lord and practice the kind of love we see in Jesus.  Is there any sign or natural wisdom that would lead us to such a conclusion?  No.  Only divine wisdom, which makes no sense on the natural level, will allow us to think this way.  So, don’t look for signs or seek human wisdom; rather seek Jesus Christ crucified, the power, the wisdom, and the love of God.

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