The Ten Commandments and Soul-Cleansing

User’s Guide to Sunday, March 7

The Ten Commandments are ultimately expressions of love, writes Franciscan University professor John Bergsma.
The Ten Commandments are ultimately expressions of love, writes Franciscan University professor John Bergsma. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, March 7, is the Third Sunday of Lent. Mass readings: Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19:8-11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25.

It’s the Third Sunday in Lent, and we are nearing the midpoint of this penitential season. There is a danger that our zeal flags and we get lax about our Lenten practices, but the Church gives us a rousing Gospel to hear this Sunday.

The first readings in Lent have been moving through salvation history. Last week we pondered God’s covenant with Abraham, sealed with a solemn divine oath of blessing after the near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:15-18). 

Afterward, God arranged for Abraham’s descendants to immigrate to Egypt, where they prospered and multiplied (Exodus 1:7), so much so that they posed a threat to the Egyptians, who enslaved them (Exodus 1:11). 

But God remembered his covenant with Abraham and sent Moses to deliver them from Egypt and bring them to the holy mountain Sinai (Exodus 3:7-10). 

Now, in this Sunday’s first reading, we hear the Ten Commandments, which were at the heart of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. 

A covenant is a family relationship established by oath, and all families have rules. 

My wife and I are blessed with many children, and all the family rules and duties for each child are posted on the refrigerator. 

The Ten Commandments are the “family rules” for God’s family — Israel. The first three rules guide the relationship with God as Father, and the next seven rules govern the relationships with “siblings,” fellow Israelites.

 Some think the Ten Commandments no longer apply to Christians, but this is wrong: The Catechism uses the commandments as the framework to teach the Christian way of life (Nos. 2052–2557).

Our Responsorial Psalm praises God’s law and thanks him for it: “The Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul” (Psalm 19:8). Just laws are a very good thing: They eliminate a lot of pain, suffering and injustice and guide people toward practices that are healthy and life-giving. 

The Ten Commandments are ultimately expressions of love, so St. Paul says that “love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Romans 13:10). We should love God’s Law, too, like the ancient Israelites, and read the Scriptures daily to learn it.

For this Sunday and the remaining Lenten Sundays, we turn to the Gospel of John to read premonitions or prophecies of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. This Sunday’s Gospel recounts perhaps the only time in his ministry when Jesus is violently angry. 

It is the Temple Cleansing, when Jesus makes a whip of cords and drives all the merchants and money-changers out of the Temple. 

They challenge him: “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 

He responds: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” But John explains: “He spoke of the temple of his body.” The destruction and rebuilding of Jesus’ body-temple will take place from Good Friday to Easter.

The Temple meant everything to devout Jews: It was the embodiment of their sacred history and their access to God. Jesus’ body is now our temple, our way of access to God, and we receive it in the Eucharist. 

Since we are what we eat, our bodies likewise become God’s temple: “Do you not know that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). 

But Jesus wants to dwell in a clean temple. 

What parts of our temple need to be cleansed? 

If necessary, Jesus will use some fearsome means to cleanse his temple (John 2:15), but we can avoid that by making frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation this Lent. There, we encounter Christ on peaceful terms and open ourselves to a gentle cleansing. 

The Ten Commandments Decoded

The subtitle of The Decalogue Decoded, Dominican Father Brian Mullady’s new book — What You Never Learned About the Ten Commandments — rates a resounding score of “10” as it perfectly summarizes the theme.