This is one of those rare reading sets where all four readings can be easily woven into a single homily. The reason is that in addition to being thematic, all these passages are things that we can easily (if we are honest) apply to ourselves in some fashion.
The Psalmist tells us: “For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations.” (Verse 28, KJV) God is in charge. How often have we heard this in one form or another or read it on some low-budget t-shirt? So often, I think, that familiarity has bred contempt. Yet how important this message is! If God is in charge, then why do we fear? Because we are doubters.
Martin Luther is often quoted as having said, “Never doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” But is that realistic? Yes and no. Yes, by faith, we never doubt for, as Scripture says, “Now faith is substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV) And then again, no, it is not realistic because we are humans. We know well and good our frailties and foibles. We know we should not fear this or that and yet we do. This is the struggle of faith. This is the combat the Desert Fathers spoke so often and so poignantly of.
In our reading from Exodus today, the Israelites have been led through the desert. God has fed
them, God has protected them from the most powerful army on earth, God has revealed Himself to his people in visible forms. Yet, the Israelites were thirsty and running low on water. Literally more than a million people and innumerable sheep, cattle, and perhaps other livestock are wandering around with dwindling supplies of water. “And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3) Miracle after miracle was granted freely from the hand of God to His people, and all they could see was their thirst. They feared because they did not really believe. The accusation they make is that God did all this to kill them! Moses, in speaking with God about it was told to take his staff and strike the rock so that water flowed and the people were given water for their thirst. For all that, there was no blessing in it.
St. Paul tells the Church at Rome how Abraham’s promise was seen by faith and yet never obtained while Abraham yet lived. The promise, he says, “…was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:23-25, KJV) Do we really believe? Or do we merely give intellectual assent?
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus drives out the money changers and those who sold doves from the Temple. Why? These people had turned the place above all others where God was to be the sole focus of attention and made it a “den of thieves.” They had come to this most holy place to focus on themselves, to get gain by catering to the needs of pious and observant Jews not out of a desire to serve, but to make money and fill their lust for money and perhaps power. The money changers charged a fee to exchange the profane Roman coinage for Temple money. The sellers of doves no doubt charged prices artificially inflated by demand at the Temple. The focus was on self all the way.
I often hear spiritual folks (of several faith traditions and world-views) speak of surrendering. Surrender to God, to a spiritual master/leader/teacher, to a system or program. Surrender never works. Let me explain why: you see, surrender is what a soldier gives to his enemy when it is time to quit fighting or die. It is never voluntary, it is never motivated by love, and it always waits for and seeks its opportunity to escape. This is precisely what the Israelites were doing in respect to God and Moses. They had surrendered, but they did not love. The money changers had submitted to the system of Judaism, but they did not submit themselves to lives lived in belief of Abraham’s promise.
I’ll say it again: Never surrender. If you love God, submit to God. To submit to God is to place yourself voluntarily under His yoke. It is to love what He loves, to seek out what He seeks out, to do what He does. It places one’s own desires and ambitions on the back burner so that the Beloved’s desires are at the front at all times. You place yourself at His disposal for His purposes. What did Jesus say? “He who loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” (St. Mark 8:35, KJV) This is submission.
As Lent gets underway and progresses, remember to submit yourself to God day by day, hour by hour. Don’t surrender to Lenten devotions, fasting, etc. Don’t wait for God to act; He already has in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us. Move forward in faith and submit your life to