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The Holy Wrath of God
The Third Sunday of Lent (Year B)
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.” John 2:15–16
Jesus made quite a scene. He directly engaged those who were turning the Temple into a marketplace. Those selling animals for sacrifice were doing so as a way of trying to make a profit off of the sacred practices of the Jewish faith. They were not there to serve the will of God; rather, they were there to serve themselves. And this brought forth the holy wrath of our Lord.
It’s important to point out that Jesus’ wrath was not the result of Him losing His temper. It was not the result of His out-of-control emotions pouring forth in extreme anger. No, Jesus was fully in control of Himself and exercised His wrath as a result of a powerful passion of love. In this case, His perfect love was manifested through the passion of anger.
Anger is normally understood as a sin, and it is sinful when it’s the result of one losing control. But it’s important to note that the passion of anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. A passion is a powerful drive which manifests itself in various ways. The key question to ask is “What is driving that passion?”
In Jesus’ case, it was hatred for sin and love for the sinner that drove Him to this holy wrath. By turning over the tables and driving people out of the Temple with a whip, Jesus made it clear that He loved His Father, whose house they were in, and He loved the people enough to passionately rebuke the sin that they were committing. The ultimate goal of His action was their conversion.
Jesus hates the sin in your life with the same perfect passion. At times we need a holy rebuke to set us on the correct path. Do not be afraid to let the Lord offer this form of rebuke to you this Lent.
Reflect, today, upon those parts of your life that Jesus wants to cleanse. Allow Him to speak directly and firmly to you so that you will be driven to repentance. The Lord loves you with a perfect love and desires that all sin in your life be cleansed.
Lord, I know that I am a sinner who is in need of Your mercy and, at times, in need of Your holy wrath. Help me to humbly receive Your rebukes of love and to allow You to drive all sin from my life. Have mercy on me, dear Lord. Please have mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Permissive Will of God
Monday of the Third Week of Lent
When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away. Luke 4:28–30
One of the first places Jesus went to begin His public ministry was His own home town. After entering the Synagogue and reading from the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus proclaimed that the prophecy of Isaiah was now fulfilled in His very person. This caused His townspeople to be outraged at Him, thinking He was blaspheming. So they shockingly sought to immediately kill Jesus by driving Him out of their town to the brow of a hill off which they meant to throw Him. But then something fascinating happened. Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went away.”
The Father eventually permitted the grave evil of the death of His Son to take place, but only in His time. It’s unclear from this passage how Jesus was able to avoid being killed right then at the beginning of His ministry, but what’s important to know is that He was able to avoid this because it was not His time. The Father had more for Jesus to do before He would permit Him to offer His life freely for the salvation of the world.
This same reality is true for our own lives. God does permit evil to happen, at times, because of the irrevocable gift of free will. When people choose evil, God will allow them to proceed—but always with a caveat. The caveat is that God only permits evil to be inflicted upon others when that evil is able to be ultimately used for God’s glory and for some form of good. And it is only permitted in God’s time. If we do evil ourselves, choosing sin rather than the will of God, then the evil that we do will end in our own loss of grace. But when we are faithful to God and some external evil is imposed upon us by another, God permits this only when that evil can be redeemed and used for His glory.
The best example of this is, of course, the passion and death of Jesus. A far greater good came forth from that event than the evil itself. But it was only permitted by God when the time was right, in accord with God’s will.
Reflect, today, upon the glorious fact that any evil or any suffering inflicted upon you unjustly can end in the glory of God and the greater salvation of souls. No matter what you may suffer in life, if God permits it, then it is always possible for that suffering to share in the redeeming power of the Cross. Consider any suffering you have endured and embrace it freely, knowing that if God permitted it, then He certainly has some greater purpose in mind. Surrender that suffering over with the utmost confidence and trust and allow God to do glorious things through it.
God of all wisdom, I know that You know all things and that all things can be used for Your glory and for the salvation of my soul. Help me to trust You, especially when I endure suffering in life. May I never despair when treated unjustly and may my hope always be in You and in Your power to redeem all things. Jesus, I trust in You.
Forgiving From the Heart
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21–22
Forgiveness of another is difficult. It’s much easier to remain angry. This line quoted above is the introduction to the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In that parable, Jesus makes it clear that if we want to receive forgiveness from God, then we must forgive others. If we withhold forgiveness, we can be certain that God will withhold it from us.
Peter may have thought that he was being quite generous in his question to Jesus. Clearly Peter had been considering Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness and was ready to take the next step of offering that forgiveness freely. But Jesus’ answer to Peter makes it clear that Peter’s concept of forgiveness greatly paled in comparison to the forgiveness demanded by our Lord.
The parable that Jesus then tells presents us with a man who was forgiven a huge debt. Subsequently, when that man encountered a person who owed him a small debt, he failed to offer the same forgiveness that was given to him. As a result, the master of that man who was forgiven the huge debt becomes outraged and requires once again a full payment of the debt. And then Jesus ends the parable with a shocking statement. He says, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
Note that the forgiveness God expects us to offer others is one that comes from the heart. And note that a lack of forgiveness on our part will result in us being handed “over to the torturers.” These are serious words. By “torturers,” we should understand that the sin of not forgiving another brings with it much interior pain. When we hold on to anger, this act “tortures” us in a certain way. Sin always has this effect upon us, and it is for our good. It’s a way in which God constantly challenges us to change. Thus, the only way to freedom from this interior form of torture by our sin is to overcome that sin, and in this case, to overcome the sin of withholding forgiveness.
Reflect, today, upon the calling God has given to you to forgive to the fullest extent. If you still sense anger in your heart toward another, keep working at it. Forgive over and over. Pray for that person. Refrain from judging them or condemning them. Forgive, forgive, forgive, and God’s abundant mercy will also be given to you.
My forgiving Lord, I thank You for the unfathomable depths of Your mercy. I thank You for Your willingness to forgive me over and over again. Please give me a heart worthy of that forgiveness by helping me to forgive all people to the same extent that You have forgiven me. I forgive all who have sinned against me, dear Lord. Help me to continue to do so from the depths of my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Height of the New Law
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” Matthew 5:17–18
The Old Law, the law from the Old Testament, prescribed various moral precepts, as well as ceremonial precepts for worship. Jesus makes it clear that He is not abolishing all that God taught through Moses and the Prophets. This is because the New Testament is the culmination and completion of the Old Testament. Thus, nothing of old was abolished; it was fulfilled and brought to completion.
The moral precepts of the Old Testament were laws that flowed primarily from human reason. It made sense that one should not kill, steal, commit adultery, lie, etc. It also made sense that God should be honored and respected. The Ten Commandments and the other moral laws still hold today. But Jesus brings us much further. He not only called us to go much deeper in the keeping of these commandments, He also promised the gift of grace so that they could be fulfilled. Thus, “Thou shall not kill” is deepened to the requirement of complete and total forgiveness of those who persecute us.
It’s interesting to note that the new depth of the moral law Jesus gives actually goes beyond human reason. “Thou shall not kill” makes sense to almost everyone, but “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is a new moral law that makes sense only by the help of grace. But without grace, the natural human mind alone cannot arrive at this new commandment.
This is extremely helpful to understand, because oftentimes we go through life relying upon our human reason alone when it comes to making moral decisions. And though our human reason will always direct us away from the most obvious moral failures, it will be insufficient alone to guide us to the heights of moral perfection. Grace is necessary for this high calling to make sense. Only by grace can we understand and fulfill the call to take up our crosses and follow Christ.
Reflect, today, upon your own calling to perfection. If it doesn’t make sense to you how God can expect perfection of you, then pause and reflect upon the fact that you are right—it doesn’t make sense to human reason alone! Pray that your human reason will be flooded with the light of grace so that you will be able to not only understand your high calling to perfection but that you will also be given the grace you need to achieve it.
My most high Jesus, You have called us to a new height of holiness. You have called us to perfection. Enlighten my mind, dear Lord, so that I may understand this high calling and pour forth Your grace, so that I may embrace my moral duty to the fullest extent. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Kingdom of God is Upon Us
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Luke 11:20
The Kingdom of God can come upon us in a variety of ways. The line from today’s Gospel above comes in the middle of a story of Jesus casting out a demon from a man who was mute. Once the demon was cast out, the mute man began to speak, and all were amazed. And though some were amazed and grew in faith as a result, others turned their amazement into irrationality.
The irrationality of some was that they saw what Jesus did, but they didn’t want to accept that His power was divine. Therefore, some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” They couldn’t deny that Jesus drove out a demon, since they saw it happen with their own eyes. But they were unwilling to accept Jesus’ divinity, so they jumped to the irrational conclusion that Jesus’ act was done by the power of “the prince of demons.”
This irrational stance of some people is one of the most dangerous stances one can take. It’s the stance of an obstinate heart. They were given the incredible witness of the power of God at work but refused to respond in faith to what they witnessed. For those who are obstinate, when the Kingdom of God comes upon them, as Jesus stated above, the effect is that they react in a violent, angry and irrational way. This form of reaction is exceptionally prevalent today in the secular world. Many in the news media, for example, constantly react violently and irrationally to all that is part of the Kingdom of God. As a result, the evil one easily misleads many, causing confusion and chaos.
For those who have eyes to see clearly, this violent and irrational rejection of the Kingdom of God is very clear. And for those with faith and an open heart, the pure message of the Gospel is like water to a dry and parched soul. They soak it up and find great refreshment. For them, when the Kingdom of God comes upon them, they are energized, inspired and driven with a holy passion to further God’s Kingdom. Irrationality disappears, and God’s pure Truth prevails.
Reflect, today, upon your heart. Are you obstinate in any way? Are there teachings from Christ and His Church that you are tempted to reject? Is there some truth that you need to hear in your personal life to which you find it difficult to be open? Pray that the Kingdom of God come upon you today and every day and, as it does, that you will be a powerful instrument of its establishment in this world.
My glorious King of all, You are all-powerful and have full authority over all things. Please come and exercise Your authority upon my life. Come and establish Your Kingdom. I pray that my heart be always open to You and to the direction you give. Jesus, I trust in You.
Hold Nothing Back
Friday of the Third Week of Lent
“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:29–30
Why would you choose anything less than to love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, with ALL your mind, and with ALL your strength? Why would you choose anything less? Of course, we do choose many other things to love in life, even though Jesus is clear with this commandment.
The truth is that the only way to love others, and even to love ourselves, is to choose to love God with ALL we are. God must be the one and only focus of our love. But what’s amazing is that the more we do this, the more we realize that the love we have in our lives is the kind of love that overflows and overflows in superabundance. And it is this overflowing love of God that then pours forth on others.
On the other hand, if we try to divide our loves by our own effort, giving God only part of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then the love we have for God cannot grow and overflow in the way God wants. We limit our capacity for love, and we fall into selfishness. Love of God is a truly amazing gift when it is total and all-consuming.
Each one of these parts of our lives are worth pondering and examining. Think about your heart and how you are called to love God with your heart. And how does this differ from loving God with your soul? Perhaps your heart is more focused on your feelings, emotions and compassion. Perhaps your soul is more spiritual in nature. Your mind loves God the more it probes the depth of His Truth, and your strength is your passion and drive in life. Regardless of how you understand the various parts of your being, the key is that every part must love God in fullness.
Reflect, today, upon the beautiful commandment of our Lord. It’s a command of love, and it is given to us not so much for God’s sake but for ours. God wants to fill us to the point of overflowing love. Why would we ever choose anything less?
My loving Lord, Your love for me is infinite and perfect in every way. I pray that I will learn to love You with every fiber of my being, holding nothing back, and to daily grow deeper in my love of You. As I grow in that love, I thank You for the overflowing nature of that love, and I pray that this love of You will flow into the hearts of those around me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Being Justified by Mercy
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. Luke 18:9–10
This Scripture passage introduces the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. They both go to the Temple to pray, but their prayers are very different from each other. The prayer of the Pharisee is very dishonest, whereas the prayer of the tax collector is exceptionally sincere and honest. Jesus concludes by saying that the tax collector went home justified but not the Pharisee. He states, “…for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
True humility is simply being honest. Too often in life we are not honest with ourselves and, therefore, are not honest with God. Thus, for our prayer to be true prayer, it must be honest and humble. And the humble truth for all of our lives is best expressed by the prayer of the tax collector who prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
How easy is it for you to admit your sin? When we understand the mercy of God, this humility is much easier. God is not a God of harshness but is a God of the utmost mercy. When we understand that God’s deepest desire is to forgive us and to reconcile us to Himself, then we will deeply desire honest humility before Him.
Lent is an important time for us to deeply examine our conscience and make new resolutions for the future. Doing so will bring new freedom and grace into our lives. So do not be afraid to honestly examine your conscience so as to see your sin clearly in the way God sees it. Doing so will put you in a position to pray this prayer of the tax collector: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Reflect, today, upon your sin. What do you struggle with the most right now? Are there sins from your past that you have never confessed? Are there ongoing sins that you justify, ignore and are afraid to face? Take courage and know that honest humility is the road to freedom and the only way to experience justification before God.
My merciful Lord, I thank You for loving me with a perfect love. I thank You for Your incredible depth of mercy. Help me to see all of my sin and to turn to You with honesty and humility so that I can be freed of these burdens and become justified in Your sight. Jesus, I trust in You.