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Bible Study: Lent 3 (B) – March 3, 2024
March 03, 2024
This week’s Old Testament reading begins with God reminding the Hebrew people that God has delivered them from slavery in Egypt. God’s nature is to liberate. God desires to set God’s people free, both physically and spiritually. The Bible teaches us that true freedom is found through relationship with God. This reminder is followed by the Ten Commandments, also called the Decalogue, which provides structure for this life of freedom that God has gifted the Hebrew people.
The commandments teach the Hebrews (and us) the basics about how we are to relate to God and to one another. The first two commandments, having no other god before God and refraining from idol worship, seem simple to keep, but the ancient Hebrews struggled with them, and likewise so do we. It is so easy to make idols out of money, technology, wealth, status, pleasure, perfectionism, success. When we do this, we forfeit the freedom that God wants us to have and enslave ourselves to these idols.
The third commandment, about keeping God’s name holy, can be hard for our modern minds to grasp, but the reverence with which we treat God helps us put God above any person or experience and protects us from falling into idol worship. The fourth commandment instructs God’s people that they must rest and reserve the day for God. These first four commandments provide a foundation for the ones that follow, reminding us that our relationship with God forms the foundation for ethical interactions with people.
The fifth through ninth commandments require us to care for our parents in their old age and to refrain from murder, adultery, theft, and lying. The last commandment reminds us to cut off sin at its root, to stop ourselves when we desire what other people have, lest our desires escalate into harmful actions.
- What idols do you think are the most common in today’s culture, and how can we turn away from them and focus our worship on God?
- As Christians, how do we observe the spirit of the Sabbath, deliberately setting aside time for rest and spiritual growth?
The first line of Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” With natural imagery, the psalmist praises God for the beauty and wonder of creation. Day and night are personified, pointing to the wonder of the order of the cosmos and the miracle of the creation of time.
Beginning in verse 7, the psalmist then praises God for the law and the structure it provides. This echoes the theme of liberation in today’s passage from Exodus, that the structure and ethical way of life provided by God are meant to set us free. The psalmist says of God’s judgments, “More to be desired are they than gold… sweeter far than honey” (Ps 19:10). So often, the word “judgment” causes anxiety, but the psalm reminds us that we are to look forward to God’s judgments because they will bring justice and peace.
Finally, verses 12-13 ask God for spiritual cleansing. Perhaps the Collect for Purity, which we pray at the beginning of each Eucharist, was influenced by Psalm 19. Near the end of the psalm, the psalmist asks to be made “whole and sound.” The psalmist encourages us to trust in God’s goodness and God’s ability to complete us.
- What experiences of nature point you toward God’s glory?
- What do you think about the psalmist’s view of God’s judgments as being desirable and sweet?
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Paul writes passionately to the church at Corinth about his identity as a Christian and the centrality of the cross. Paul says that Christians “proclaim Christ crucified.” To die on the cross was not only shameful to Jews, but it was understood to be a kind of curse (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). To Gentiles who followed the state religion, it was complete foolishness to worship a crucified god. The cross was a source of ridicule–why would a god allow himself to be executed in such a horrific way?
At first, Paul himself did not believe the story of a crucified Messiah. He persecuted Christians until his encounter with the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus. Now, he proclaims the Gospel to anyone who will listen, and, again and again, he must explain to a shocked audience about his crucified Lord. He must explain how Jesus’ death on the cross is not an example of God’s weakness but of God’s power.
The cross remains central to the Christian story: The God who created the universe out of nothing can turn the most unimaginable evil into joy and new life. God can do the impossible, and God’s ways are completely unexpected, defying the understanding of the most educated people. Human reason can only take us so far because God’s wisdom will always surpass it.
- Does the cross still defy the wisdom of the world in our time?
- How can we better proclaim Christ crucified to a world hungry for hope?
Some people think that the Gospel of John emphasizes Jesus’ divinity over his humanity. However, in John’s Gospel for today, we see Jesus struggling with a very human emotion: anger. Corruption and greed have crept into God’s house. Using a whip, Jesus drives from the temple of all who have made it into a marketplace. He overturns the tables. He causes quite a chaotic scene, with people, coins, and livestock being scattered.
This is not the image that we usually think of when we think of Jesus. Most of us tend to imagine Jesus on the cross or at the empty tomb; we imagine Jesus teaching, healing, feeding, or gathering little children to him. When we display images of Jesus in our homes or churches, we are unlikely to select an image of an angry Jesus making a mess of the temple. This is a disruptive Jesus, one who would not be ignored, nor can we ignore this side of Jesus.
This story is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of who Jesus was, to more fully comprehend that Jesus was truly human and that, although he did not sin, he understands our weaknesses (cf. Hebrews 14:5).
Following this disruption, Jesus speaks of himself as the temple and says that it will be raised after three days. Although the Pharisees and disciples did not understand what he meant at the time, the disciples understood the meaning after Jesus’ death: Jesus replaces the temple; Jesus himself is the ultimate offering of love, reconciling us to God.
- What does this passage tell us about righteous anger?
- Is it hard for you to imagine Jesus with a whip, turning over tables, and yelling or speaking sternly?
Erica Andersen is a senior residential student at Nashotah House Theological Seminary and is an aspirant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. She serves as seminarian at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. She previously studied English literature, classics, and Montessori education. For many years she was a homeschooling parent and community volunteer. Her hobbies include language learning, reading, hiking, gardening, and crochet. She is passionate about teaching God’s word to people of all ages. Erica and her husband Tim have three children.
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