Only power and wisdom of God endure
By Shawn Reeves
Third Sunday of Lent/March 4
Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 19:8,9,10,11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
Out of necessity, I’ve become somewhat of a handyman in our home over the past 16 years, and I’m always pleased when I find the repair depends on a standardized part. Standardization has provided industry with a swiftness and precision in the manufacturing process and just as much a benefit to consumers who would otherwise be overwhelmed by a host of customizable parts, unique to each product, that cannot be interchanged. It proves solutions recognizable, and it makes life convenient and secure. It provides convention.
But conventional standards can also be a handicap. They can precipitate resistance to innovation. There is a cost to replacing a standardized feature with a new standard, and cost is a nuisance. “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,” St. Paul announces. It is observation and accusation.
Accustomed to marvels of the eyes, the Jewish community of his time demanded such phenomena as evidence of authenticity. They had no other acceptable standard of authority. Accustomed to marvels of the mind and speech, the Greek community of his time was wed to this other standard of human wisdom. Both communities, St. Paul suggests, were resistant to the new standard of “Christ crucified.”
Miracles were power, not a sacrificed man. Human eloquence was wisdom, not redemptive self-offering. To abandon these principals would have been nothing short of dismantling their cultural identity — a great cost. Instead, stubborn allegiance to the conventions and categories of each community paralyzed their ability to perceive Jesus as “the power of God and the Wisdom of God.”
OFFERING A NEW STANDARD
Similarly, in the Gospel Jesus is confronted with the same demand: “What sign can you show us for doing this?” It is stated less as an expectation of an actual sign and more as an indictment of His behavior as unjustifiably disruptive. Jesus wildly breaks into their ordinary and familiar pattern of life and unhinges it with a mandate of change: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
Their comfortable world, their familiar standard, is immediately threatened, and they respond with a coy request for a miracle. Despite their insincerity, “Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God” offers them one. He presents a sign that He proposes as the new standard — the standard of His resurrection.
Just as we tend to resist moving away from what contents us, from what we find reliable, and stubbornly cling to the standards we find comforting, so too Christ’s audience cannot even hear His words outside the context of what they find a reliable, comforting paradigm. They imagine Him to be speaking of the temple edifice, “but He was speaking of the temple of His body.” And just as in our daily lives Jesus responds to us tenderly, suggesting a more profound paradigm while we shudder at the thought of change, so Jesus announced a coming sign more marvelous than they could have imagined. Sadly, all but a few disciples seemingly missed its significance.
We are stubborn and fickle creatures, afraid of change, resistant to what is difficult (even if it is what is most right). This is why in our first reading God replaces the standards of life the Hebrew people had adopted in Egypt with the new standard of the Ten Commandments. Shortly thereafter, out of human weakness, this standard is quickly trespassed. In our weakness, we settle for inferior standards.
But the Lord, in His love, has always challenged us to adopt greater ones. He “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He Himself understood it well.” For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom. His power and wisdom are the only enduring standard.
Shawn Reeves has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.