Ordinary of the Mass
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This morning’s excerpt from Saint Paul’s epistle to the
Corinthians requires that we recall the journey of the Jewish people through the
desert—the Exodus from captivity in Egypt. What Saint Paul relates is
that even though they had spent four-hundred years in slavery in a foreign land,
the people refused to follow the ways of God when He led them to their promised
Even though God fed them with manna (a sort of bread-like
substance that fell from heaven), and fed them with quail in the desert, they
continuously complained that they wanted something more and better. Some
even suggested that they return to Egypt, where the food (in slavery?) was
presumably better. Some of them were idolaters (You will remember the
golden calf); some were fornicators—although the word “adultery” in
the Old Testament often refers to infidelity to God rather than to a spouse.
The phrase “some of them rose up to play” suggests a generally irresponsible
and irreverent behavior, even though they traveled in the continual presence of
The “tempting of Christ” seems like an anachronism, for
Jesus was fourteen or fifteen hundred years in the future—but “the Christ”
means “the anointed One” and could refer to Moses, or to Aaron—or perhaps
even to the Presence of God Himself as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of
fire by night—the divine “Shekinah.” The “tempting” was
in the form of challenging God to demonstrate His power to provide the things
for which they asked.
One of the penalties for this tempting of God in the desert
was a plague of serpents—many were bitten and died—some were delivered from
death by casting their gaze on a brass serpent that Moses held aloft on a stick
Many commentators on Scripture speak of the snake twisted on the stick as a
precursor of Christ on the Cross—a man condemned to hang on a stick to deliver
His people from death.
In the Gospel we see that this infidelity, this irreverent
and irresponsible behavior, surfaced again in the time of Christ—again in the
place where God was continuously with His people, the Temple in Jerusalem.
By our Lord’s time, the home of the Divine Presence had become a place where
people profited at the expense of the worshippers—changing the money of the
Romans into the money of the Temple—selling lambs and doves, and other
sacrificial victims to those who came to offer sacrifice to God.
Our Lord’s reaction was uncharacteristically violent, as
He drove all of the usurpers from the Temple. Indeed, at the opening of
today’s Gospel, our Lord predicted a far more violent end—for both the City
of Jerusalem and for its Temple. More than a mere expulsion, both the City
and the Temple were to be destroyed. And soon enough they were destroyed
in 70 AD under the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who utterly crushed the nation
and the rebellion of the Jews. Historical accounts confirm the accuracy of
our Lord’s prediction. In many cases, not a stone was left standing upon
another stone as the Romans smashed nearly everything.
Today, one cannot help but marvel that things have not
changed very much. True, we are Christians and not Jews—and the beach is
as close as we get to the sand of the desert—but we must honestly ask
ourselves if our modern society is really any different from that of the Jews of
two or three thousand years ago.
Can we claim that we avoid the idols and the adulteries of
the modern world?
Do we not murmur about our human condition and our state in
life? Don’t we often ask why God this this or that to so and so?
Or wonder why we don’t have the fine things that our neighbor has?
Don’t we complain about our problems, while at the same time failing to thank
God for our benefits?
Do we not often “rise up to play” instead of looking
after the needs of families, friends, and neighbors? The material needs?
The intellectual needs? and the spiritual needs? Do we not spend
more time with entertainments than with understanding what is going on in our
Church? And in our nation? In doing our schoolwork? In saying our
Do we not stand idly by as ever manner of foolishness takes
place in our churches and in the forums of public life?
It takes very little examination of conscience to recognize
that we are often like those who died of the serpents in the desert. It
takes little to recognize that our society may be just like the society of
Jerusalem, over which our Lord wept with the knowledge that His people would be
scattered, and their cities destroyed.
But “these things were written for our
correction, upon whom the final age of the world has come.”
If we recognize our foibles, it seems pretty clear what
must be done to avert the fate of the desert and the fate of Jerusalem: We
know what God requires of us. We must give up those infidelities and
irresponsibilties. “We should not lust after evil things, even as they
lusted.” We must not “rise up to play” when there are important
things to be done in our Church, our families, and our nations. We must
not tempt God, and murmur that He has not given everything that we want, while
simultaneously failing to thank Him for His bounty.
The house of God must not be a den of thieves—nor clowns,
nor dancers, nor acrobats—it must be a place of continual prayer. Even
more than the Shekinah—the Divine presence in the Temple—our God is
continually present with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. His
Sacrifice is freely offered each day at Holy Mass—no goats, no bulls, no doves
are required. Please take every possible opportunity to attend! Our
Lord hangs on the Cross, as it was foreshadowed in the desert at the
serpents—we have but to look upon Him and beg His forgiveness.
“God is faithful, and will not permit you to be
tempted beyond your strength.”