The Third Sunday of Lent [B]

First Reading Exodus 20:1-17
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Gospel John 2:13-25

He Himself understood it well.

St. Paul proclaims in today’s Second Reading that “Jews demand signs”. While “Greeks look for wisdom,” and Romans respect brute force, the “Jews demand signs”. We hear this to be true of the Jews in today’s Gospel passage. After Jesus initiates conflict in the Jewish Temple, “the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’” Jesus shows them through words the sign of the Cross: “‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’” On Good Friday, Jesus proclaims the sign of the Cross by sacrificing His Body and Blood upon it. The Jews reject both His word and His sacrifice.

Lent is a season of sorrow and bitterness. St. John paints the lines of bitterness and sorrow in his portrait of Jesus here. Two years before Jesus’ Passion and Death on the Cross, “while He was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in His Name when they saw the signs He was doing.” That sounds great: the Gospel must be working! “Many began to believe in His Name”! Jesus’ ministry is growing successfully, and it’s only the second chapter of the Gospel!

If God the Father had sent His son to save us by miracles, the Jews’ response might have brought joy to Jesus’ heart. But the evangelist reports something far different: “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.” John’s commentary here is both poignant and pregnant.

John’s commentary here is pregnant as it foreshadows the events of Holy Week. God the Father did not send His Son to save us through a miraculous sign, but through a sign of failure: betrayal, false condemnation, public humiliation and physical torture all embrace in the sign of the Cross. The Cross on Calvary was meant to serve as a human sign, and a divine sign. Humanly, Jesus had His hands and feet nailed to a cross at the top of a mountain. This was meant by sinful rulers to serve as a sign for anyone who might dare reject the rule of the Romans and the Law of the Levites.

As a divine sign, the Cross is poignant. The sign of the Cross reveals that God’s very nature, His divine Life, is a paradox. St. Paul makes this plain to the Corinthians: “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” This is what the Jews of Jesus’ day fail to understand, both on this Passover two years before Jesus’ crucifixion, and also on that day so tragic that we call it “Good Friday”. Yet even today, God means for the sign of the Cross to serve as a sign for you, as a sinner, to experience forgiveness and healing.

During the Season of Lent, part of examining your approach to the spiritual life is asking yourself questions based upon St. Paul’s teaching in the Second Reading. Do you demand signs from God? Do you look for wisdom? Do you seek from God greater power and control over yourself and others, if not over God Himself? To the extent that any of your answers is “Yes”, meditate this week upon God’s response to you, and to all who seek signs, wisdom and power: that is, the Sign of the Cross.