Bible Reflection (3 March 2024)

3rd Sunday of Lent Year B

Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

How do I find faith? Is it through my eyes, my head or my heart?

My brothers and sisters, Lent is a journey where God invites us to faith. But how do we arrive at faith? In the Second Reading this week, St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom” (verse 22). So we ask: How do I arrive at faith? Do I build my faith on evidence (signs); or do I build my faith on logic (wisdom)? In other words, how we find faith? Is it through our eyes (signs) or through our heads (wisdom)? The truth is, while evidence and logic can help us grow in faith, neither is the foundation we build our faith. Allow me to explain.

The Jews of Jesus’ time demanded miraculous signs from the Lord in order to believe Him. In the Gospel of Matthew, they asked Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” (Mt 12:38) In the Gospel this week, they asked again, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (verse 18) But as the author of Hebrew tells us, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) For if we need to see to believe, then it is not true faith. It is at best shallow faith. This explains why in spite of the many miraculous signs that Jesus performed, when Jesus was arrested and persecuted, all His disciples ran away. They had signs, but yet they still lack faith. This also explains why the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for signs. But it was not signs they are after. Rather, they are finding justifications for their lack of faith! In the Gospel this week, we read, “many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.” (verse 23-25) Even today, there are no shortage of miracles. For behind every Saint that the Church have declared, there were miraculous events that the Church uses as justifications for its decisions. These miracles as signs from God. Yet, the world refuses to believe. So, my brother and sister, let us ask ourselves: Like the Scribes and Pharisees, am I too asking for signs while ignoring the signs that God has already shown me?

While some uses their eyes to looks for signs as their path to faith, others resort to their heads. They look to logic. St Paul wrote in the Second Reading, the “Greeks desire wisdom” (verse 22). The Greek are supreme intellects, producing great philosophers such as Socrates and Plato. They wanted to reason themselves to faith. But as St Anselm said, theology is faith seeking understanding. In other words, faith comes before reason. Reason does not lead to faith but builds on faith that is already there. As an example, have you ever wondered why even though it is common knowledge that smoking causes cancer, many continue to smoke? Indeed, reason alone cannot change our hearts. In the case of faith, theology alone does not lead us to faith. Otherwise, the most faithful people in the world ought to be the theologians. Conversely, those with little understanding in theology ought to be the weakest in faith. But we know this is not true. Theology is faith seeking understanding. In other words, theology provides understanding to the faith that is already there. Using the smoking example earlier, having already quit smoking, the knowledge of smoking causes cancer strengthen the person’s resolve to stay off cigarettes.

So, how do we arrive at faith? Faith is a journey of the heart not of the head. We need God to enter our heart and touch it. But this is where faith is at its simplest yet, to many, most difficult. The truth is, God cannot enter our hearts while we block Him out. What are some of the obstacles? First and foremost, these are our sins and indulgences. They are the greatest obstacles to God coming into our heart – our pride, greed, jealousy, selfishness, lust, unrepentance, etc. Because of my pride, we could not acknowledge that I need a saviour. Because of my greed and jealousy, my relationships to friends and loved ones are strained. Because of my selfishness, I do not reach out to those in need. My brothers and sisters, our body is the temple of God. But like the temple in today’s Gospel, we filled the entrance of our temple with merchants, money changers and other vices, so much so that God is unable to enter. My brothers and sisters, we need to drive out the evils that is in our heart, just as Jesus drove away the merchants and money changers. But before we can even do that, we need the humility to admit that there are evils in our lives. We need to have the desire to purify ourselves. Only then can Jesus come in, drive out our darkness and heal us. Otherwise, like the scribes and Pharisees, we will be seeking alternative pathways to faith such as signs and logic, only to be disappointed.

When we allow Jesus to enter and melt our hearts of stone, then true faith starts to take roots in our hearts. Our Lenten practices of prayers, sacrifice, almsgiving and repentance are no longer ritualistic habits, but they become truly life giving – to us and to others. The same goes with observing God’s Commandments. We cease to view these as some kill-joy oppressive rules, but ways God is teaching us to live better, love better. So we ask ourselves: How ready am I to follow God’s Commandments? In Exodus times, as the people journeyed to the Holy Land, God gave them the Ten Commandments. This week’s First Reading, taken from Exodus 20, presents us the Ten Commandments. The first three of the Commandments address with our relationship with God; while the next seven address with our relationship with each other. The Ten Commandments are moral laws to help free the people from immoral practices they grew accustomed to in Egypt. In the same way, they can help us drive out the evil that is in our heart, to let God in, to live and love better.

The Ten Commandments can be summarised as follows:

  1. Honour God
  2. Honour God’s name
  3. Honour God’s day
  4. Honour your father and mother
  5. Do not kill
  6. Do not commit adultery
  7. Do not steal
  8. Do not lie
  9. Do not wrongfully desire your neighbour’s wife
  10. Do not wrongfully desire your neighbour’s goods

Embedded within these Commandments are the key to peace, healing, and inner joy. They tell us to put God first before all other earthly gratifications (fame, fortune, achievements, and even sporting pursuits) (Commandments 1-3). They tell us to place priorities on our families (Commandment 4). They provide us moral codes on sanctity of life, on sexuality on justice and integrity (Commandment 5-8). It further challenges us that morality is not simply a case of not committing evil, but true morality is having a pure heart that rejects evil outright (Commandment 9-10). My brothers and sisters, this Lent, let us take these Commandments to heart. May the Holy Spirit walk with us on this journey. Amen.