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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. I love the passion of Jesus in today’s Gospel. He is fired up and angry. He is full of zeal which consumes him. These days, I think we tend to domesticate the person of Jesus so much that he is no longer a threat. We see him as meek, mild, someone not very radical and not too demanding. Now don’t get me wrong, Jesus was indeed meek, gentle and compassionate. But when he needed to be, he was demanding, a warrior, a soldier and a courageous prophet who was not afraid to suffer consequences for his actions. In fact, all scholars agree that his actions in causing a near riot in the temple, speeded up his condemnation and death. So, what was he so worked up about?

Jesus’ passionate desire to put things right, centred on right worship of God and justice with one being the key to the other. First right worship. Time and time again in the Old Testament, the Jews were accused of idolatry – the golden calf being the best known symbol and example. This was a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments that we read in today’s first reading. To worship God alone and to reject false gods was not the first in the sense it was top of the list. It is the first and most important commandment because if we get that wrong, everything else is out of kilter as well. If we don’t worship God as our first love then we begin to worship things and creatures rather than their Creator. Right relationship with God comes first and that is why the second and third commandments serve as follow ups, asking us not to take the Lord’s name in vain and to make that commitment to keeping holy the sabbath day by taking part in public worship.

What happens when these three commandments get ignored? Right order and harmony begin to break down. And that’s precisely what happened in the temple where commerce began to contaminate people’s lives of worship, where God’s love had to be earned and people were being exploited. When we stop worshipping God as our highest good, corruption sets in. So also does greed, lust, stealing, injustice and not being fully honest. These are the things that cause havoc, disorder and inflict misery.

Friends, there was a time when all of us knew the commandments by heart. Now, sadly, they don’t feature very much in our faith programmes. But here is the blueprint for a well-ordered life and society where social harmony flows from right worship and praise. And this is a message that is as relevant now as it was back in the time of Moses.

A final word about the God we worship. At the time of Jesus, there were many pagan gods from Rome and Greece. They all had in common an obligation on the part of the people to submit to their power and control. The God that Jesus came to reveal was not this kind of God. Unlike other false gods, the God of Jesus Christ is one who empties himself of his power, in order to draw close to us and save us. As St Paul reminds us in the second reading, he is the God who allowed himself to be crucified, humiliated and wounded out of love for us. Out of love he chose to empty himself and make himself our brother; out of love he shared our condition, that of every man, woman and child.

And so, friends, the first commandment to love God above all things is not a cold command, much less a demand. When we come to know the humility of God revealed in the crib at Christmas or on the cross during Lent, falling on our knees in worship and praise will not be something we are forced to do but rather want to do. Because of his love and mercy, adoration of the living God will be our joy and salvation.

Put God back in first place this Lent. Worship and praise Him with a joyful heart. And may we be filled with the same passion and zeal to put things right, as Jesus himself.


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