Catholic homily outline for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B – Christ and Laws

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Central idea: God’s Law and Jesus Christ. Doctrine: God’s law, the natural law, civil law, and conscience. Practical application: Obeying God and not men.

Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)

To view Lectionary 29, click here.

Central idea: God’s Law and Jesus Christ

Reading 1 Ex 20:1-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
“I, the LORD, am your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves
in the shape of anything in the sky above
or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;
you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,
inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation;
but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation
on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished
the one who takes his name in vain.

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Six days you may labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.
No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter,
or your male or female slave, or your beast,
or by the alien who lives with you.
In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in them;
but on the seventh day he rested.
That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother,
that you may have a long life in the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass,
nor anything else that belongs to him.”

  • This is the Decalogue, the “ten words” or commandments that God gave to his Chosen People and to the world through them.
  • The Law was given to Moses and the Chosen People in a dramatic display of power: Mt. Horeb was enveloped in cloud, fire, smoke, and lightening, and the people heard thunder and the peals of a mighty trumpet (Ex 19:16 ff.).
  • A rationale is given for keeping the Sabbath rest. For the rest, either no explanation is given or the argument is obey and be blessed; disobey and be punished.
  • However, as God’s people lived the law and pondered it, they began to see how good and beautiful it was.
  • The Catechism tells us the Decalogue “must first be understood in the context of the Exodus, God’s great liberating event at the center of the Old Covenant.” These ten words “point out the conditions of a life freed from the slavery of sin. The Decalogue is a path of life.” (CCC 2057)
  • The revelation of the Ten Commandments is another example of how God has blessed every nation through Abraham and his descendants.
  • Why are the Ten Commandments necessary? Under certain conditions, we will want to do the opposite, will consider the opposite as good and a way to life and happiness, when in reality it is not.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
elightening the eye.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.

  • This psalm expresses the truth that as a person obeys the Law deliberately and reflectively, he will begin to see how good and beautiful it is.
    • For example, bearing false witness against one’s neighbor can only bring you into a world of trouble but becoming a person who tells the truth is a reward in itself.
  • Indeed, as the Catechism points out, the Decalogue is a path of life (CCC 2057).

Reading 2 1 Cor 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

  • What does it take to commit oneself to ultimate truth? The Jews of Jesus’ time were looking for great displays of God’s power—signs or miracles. This is understandable since that was how God dealt with their ancestors. The Greeks, on the other hand, were looking for wisdom. This is understandable, too. The Greeks gave the ancient world philosophy. Think of Plato and Aristotle.
  • Christ crucified made no sense to either group. For Jews, it was the opposite of a great display of power from God. It looked more like a curse. For Greeks, it was foolish to think that God would involve himself in human affairs in such a sordid way.
  • It is for us to discern the power and wisdom hidden in Crucifixion of Christ.

Gospel Jn 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the moneychangers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.

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.
But 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.

  • The crowds thronging Jerusalem during Passover were attracted to Jesus and impressed by the signs or miracles he performed.
  • The merchants, moneychangers, and the temple officials would be furious, though, since Jesus disrupted their biggest money-making season.
  • Here Christ foretells his greatest miracle. He is the true temple of God because he is God incarnate. Men will destroy this temple by putting him to death but he will rebuild it through his resurrection.
  • At the time, Jesus’ disciples did not understand Jesus’ zeal as Son of the Father. They also did not grasp that he was the true temple of God.
  • Perhaps Jesus’ disciples were impressed by the success their master seemed to be enjoying in Jerusalem, since “many began to believe in his name.”
  • But Jesus was not a celebrity riding a wave of success due to people wanting whatever he was offering. He had his own agenda which no one around him understood. He understood people but people did not understand him. He knew human nature. He knew it and loved it, but prudently did not trust it in us fallen men.
  • God gradually revealed himself to humanity through words and deeds. The words are the entire moral law, the Ten Commandments, the two greatest commandments, the new commandment of love, and Christ himself the Word of God. The deeds are signs, blessings and punishments, the experience of happiness of doing good, and suffering, death, and resurrection.

Doctrine: God’s Law, the natural law, civil law, and conscience

  • We live in a time in which Christian consciences are being pressured to accept and to approve things which are immoral. We are accused of unjustly trying to impose our religious morality on people who don’t accept our faith.
  • To counter this, each adult Catholic needs to see clearly the relationship between the Ten Commandments, the natural law, and civil law.
  • Natural law. From pagan Greece and Rome, the Church inherited, developed, and has defended the philosophical notion of natural law. The natural law is what is good and evil for human beings based on our human nature. These standards of human flourishing can be known by reason alone.
    • For example, everyone can know that it is wrong to physically harm or even kill another human being without a just reason. A well-formed conscience can be our guide. What is conscience? It is nothing other than our reason sitting in judgment of our actions, approving or condemning them based on our correct understanding of the natural law.
  • The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are a revealed expression of the natural law. As the Catechism tells us, “The commandments of the Decalogue, although accessible to reason alone, have been revealed.” We needed this revelation “to attain a complete and certain understanding of the requirements of the natural law . . . ‘because the light of reason was obscured and the will had gone astray’.” Thus, “we know God’s commandments through the divine revelation proposed to us in the Church [the Ten Commandments] and through the voice of moral conscience [the natural law].” (CCC 2071)
    • For example, the Fifth Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” expresses and entails everything the natural law teaches us about defending life.
  • Civil law. Civil law exists to embody the natural law in particular times and places for the good of those under it. The commandment not to kill or harm the innocent can be legislated in many different ways and we have laws against all kinds of assault. These laws get their legitimacy by being grounded in the natural law.
  • What about unjust laws? Notice what Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail about the relationship between the civil law and the moral law: “I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’ Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”

Practical application: Obeying God and not men

  • We should normally obey both God and duly-authorized men. Basing herself both on Divine Revelation and natural law, the Church teaches us we should readily obey all civil laws unless they are unjust. Sometimes we might have to tolerate and even obey unjust civil laws. An example of this was the Penal Laws imposed on Catholics in the United Kingdom, by which Catholics had their property and inheritances seized, were prohibited from operating schools, and were excluded from much of civil life. However, if the law tries to force us to perform a serious wrong, we have the right and may even the obligation to resist. A current example is the Affordable Care Act. Its regulations require Catholic employers and even religious orders to provide abortion and contraception coverage.
  • This situation underlines our need to be engaged in civic life. We have a duty to exercise our rights as citizens and to defend the rights of others in order to promote the common good. We generally do this by voting and otherwise advocating for our rights.
  • Generally, when we engage with our culture, we have to appeal to reason, not to revelation. It does no good to appeal to the Magisterium of the Church to non-Catholic Christians or to God’s Law to non-Christians, agnostics, or even atheists. Consequently, we need to know the natural law in a way that our parents and grandparents did not. We need simple and readily understandable rational arguments. Here are some examples.
    • Abortion kills an innocent and defenseless human being. We refuse to cooperate in that evil.
    • Marriage is the exclusive and permanent friendship of a man and a woman for their good and the good of any children born from their union. Same-sex marriage is just impossible by definition.
    • Contraception separates sex from its procreative purpose and so goes against human nature. It is harmful to marriage and the family and makes possible widespread sexual immorality. It is wrong to make me provide this for other people.
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