Sunday Lent Week Three


Ex 20:1-17 – 1Cor 1:22-25 – Jn 2:13-25

After Easter I will be going with a group of pilgrims to the oldest Christian monastery, St Catherine’s, at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses, according to today’s first reading, received the ten commandments in the cloud that covered the mountain after he had left the people and climbed it. We will also see the burning bush, but no longer aflame I think.
There is real power – and benefit to our inner journey- to be found by visiting the sacred places of our own and others’ traditions. Pilgrimage symbolises the process of purification, simplification and transformation that we call our spiritual path – a journey that is no less interior than exterior because it eventually transcends all dualities. Without the sacred – in the form of space or time or ritual – our life is diminished, under-nourished by the power of symbol. But it is easy to polarise the sacred and the secular, the mystical and the rational; whereas, in this human quest we are all on, both need to be integrated and transcended.

Cecil B de Mille’s Ten Commandments, a Hollywood blockbuster of the 60’s, with Charlton Heston as Moses, was faithful to the mythical narrative text of today’s first reading but it is unconvincing and laughable today. We have to suspend our disbelief in order to read this kind of story, not to believe it literally. By missing the point, fundamentalism betrays revelation. In that state of suspense the truth of symbol can be felt. Seeing this is part of the spiritual journey we make from childhood to maturity.
St Paul matured with a bang – evidence of which we see in the second reading – when Christ exploded in his consciousness. He underwent the shattering of duality that happens when we plunge into paradox, comparable to the sci-fi astronauts who take their ship into a black hole and find new dimensions of reality. For Paul Christ is the eye of all paradox, crucified and risen, foolishness to the world, wisdom in the divine dimension, apparently weak but actually strong.

In today’s gospel Jesus cleanses the temple. He drives out the money-changers along with those running the animal sacrifice industry. The authorities are outraged, and with good reason. Without traders, how will the Temple be self-sustaining as no doubt they were told they must be? Such behaviour is also awful for tourism, like the terrorist attacks in Egypt some years ago. But when the sacred becomes profane it demands to be shattered which is why the history of religion is full of reform movements.

We see at the end of the gospel, however, that Jesus was not concerned about running a successful movement. If you understand him, follow him. If you don’t, well, wait. This detachment from his own message also propels us beyond literalism and duality into a deeper level of reality, higher up the holy mountain. Any meditator would realise from reading this that we too must purify the temple of our hearts of any thought or practice, however reasonable, that betrays it.

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