Sunday Scriptures

Father, Is it a Sin If…

By Father James Rodriguez

ONE OF THE THINGS I have enjoyed most over the last six-plus years as a priest has been teaching.

At the parish where I was privileged to serve for my first five years, I was able to visit the third and seventh grades almost every week, listening to their questions and providing answers when I could. Now teaching moral theology at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, I am no less moved or privileged to answer the questions of young people seeking God.

Through the years, there is one question that I’ve come to expect: “Father, is it a sin if…” followed by some particular situation. On the surface, the question may seem purely legalistic, but the truth is that these young people are trying to avoid the pitfalls that we have been vulnerable to since Adam and Eve took the bite that changed history.

The same fundamental temptation – to not trust God – was there in the desert with those wandering, newly freed slaves. Ironically, they were lapsing back into slavery without knowing it, using their free will irresponsibly and seeking other, more accommodating gods to worship. How similar we are today!

Thus the true God gave them the Ten Commandments, providing the structure they needed to exercise the freedom they were born with as His sons and daughters. These are not merely arbitrary rules, but the life-giving law of God – a law that would take flesh in the living law of love, Jesus Christ, literally the incarnation of what it means to obey God, not because it is our duty but because it is built into our truest nature.

It is this obedience that led the Psalmist to declare: “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul” (Psalm 19:8).

Finding Joy, Not Shame

When was the last time you heard law described as “refreshing?” Truly, God does not think as we do. Even His “foolishness is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25). Yet when we bend, yielding to His truth, we do not find shackles or shame, but joy and light. To follow His law is to follow His Son, to love one another as He loves us. This love is on full display in today’s Gospel.

At the Temple, as Passover approached, people’s minds were occupied with all the wrong things. This was the time to prepare for the spiritual exercise of remembering that foundational moment in which God intervened so spectacularly to save them from slavery. For the Jewish people, then as now, remembering is more than remembering. It is more like reenacting or even reliving the events in question. It is no coincidence that at the Last Supper, Our Lord enjoins His first priests to “Do this in memory of me.”

Like their ancestors, however, the Jews began to forget, falling back into false devotion; only this time it was a warped version of God Himself that they worshipped. They began to think of Him as more of a judge than a father, and allowed the proscriptions of law to replace rather than govern the practice of faith. This is why Jesus becomes so angry, and some of my braver students have dared to question: “Father, is it a sin?”

The good news is that no, Jesus did not sin, for His anger was justified and righteous. Remember today’s first reading: “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5), yet God’s jealousy is not for observance of law but for the observers themselves! Here we may be tempted to misquote St. Paul, who fought against what he called “works of the law,” but he was referring to this type of disembodied law, separated from its Giver, a law that had itself become a false god.

When we exercise the spiritual gift of fear of the Lord that we received at Confirmation, it is more than fearing His righteous judgment – it is fearing to violate the friendship He so desires with us, the turning away that every sin entails.

This Lent, the Lord invites us to turn back to Him. Most of the time, it is a gentle invitation, filled with His promise of grace and truth. Sometimes, however, we might feel like those money changers outside the temple. This too is an expression of His divine mercy – He loves us so much that He refuses to let us go on in our sinfulness, unchallenged and complacent.

How often have you or I allowed ourselves, living temples of the Lord (1 Cor. 3:16), to become places of that inhuman commerce by which we sell ourselves through compromise and sin. Indeed, we have already been purchased, and at great price (1 Cor 6:20)! It is that price – the Precious Blood spilled for our freedom – that we remember this Lent. Come, let us adore Him, Who died to set us free.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent:

Exodus 20: 1-17 or Exodus 20: 1-3, 7-8, 12-17
Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 11 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25 John 2: 13-25

Father James Rodriguez is the diocesan vocation director and teaches theology at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst.