All around us are the signs of recovery from the pandemic: the rollout of vaccines, the relaxing of restrictions, the return to school and the gentle, tenative whispers of spring. A year of restricted and quarantined living has been something of a Lenten experience, a time to regauge, reflect and remember. In the past weeks and months, the best and worst elements of our culture have struggled for dominance, demanded attention and sought realignment and purpose. In the midst of all that, accompanied by the sharp chill of a cold front, the Third Sunday of Lent arrives. There is a striking simplicity in it, in the readings and the Gospel, that both beguile and befuddle. But it is there, consistent and insistent, waiting to be heard.
That simplicity is clearly present in the first reading. The Book of Exodus, a story of change and struggle, provides the framework, but the passage itself was perhaps the precursor of guides to well being and health.
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.”
Behind the words lies the reality of choice, of human nature, of who we are and what we are capable of. The words address identity, belonging, respect, and interacting. They are about recognizing both the finiteness of self and the infinite impact each has on others. They are a testimony to the wealth and treasures of human life, and to the cost of living itself. Most of all, they convey the very complicated issues and concerns that every generation struggles with. In other words, these are words, lines, that capture how very hard it is to be human. But they also offer a rich possibility by suggesing the better ways to be, the choices that can enable us to be more and better than we were before. Best of all, there is a God who understands that very complex terrain and knows the range of emotions and the context of time.
It is all there in the Gospel of John. So often, the story of Jesus driving the money changers from the Temple is an affirmation of human anger, or interpreted with the stigma of stereotypes or even used to justify violence. But the truth of the story, the most powerful of lines, is often overshadowed by the vividness of that description.
“…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.”
And there it is, halfway through Lent, a tiny caveat of truth and comfort. A God who understands human nature, who loves and forgives, acknowledges human limits, flaws and faults, and still invites us to make choices freely, to know ourselves and one another, to celebrate what it is to be human in ways that show honor and respect for each other and for God.
In a world grappling with the harshest of 21st century realities, taking a moment to consider the transcendent, the most basic and fundamental of human needs, can be done with the simplest of passages. We are who we are as humans; the Third Sunday of Lent is a reminder that we each bear the gift and the burden of that. And so does Jesus. Because of that, we are never truly alone on the human journey: the persistent love of God for each of us is there, and we have the choice to make that even more manifest for one another by living simply and simply living.