Let’s be honest here: relationships are tough. We are born into families without our choosing, and we are called to be in familial relationships with people who sometimes, well, we feel like we could just punch them out.
We make friends. If we are lucky we make one or two good ones. And these are people who really, really know us. But these relationships take a lot of work. Even when we feel we know someone, and there seems to be no strings attached, we can still get hurt. But most often the pain is worth it.
And for some of us we marry or join a religious community. There are amazing moments where it seems like everything is perfect. And there are moments where we sometimes wonder how we got into these relationships in the first place.
For most priests the experience of the first few years of priesthood is an education in how complicated and difficult relationships are for people—for themselves included. Tears are shed, people are let down, and yet we still continue to move towards others, for it is how we have been created. We have been created to be with others.
The readings we encounter today show us that we have a God who knows how hard relationships can be for us—just how hard it is for us to love other people.
Since the time of the Fall God has been working to guide his people into right relationships: not only with him, but also with each other. He gave us the Ten Commandments, as we see in the first reading, as an expression of love to help us discern how we are supposed to act in relationships. How we are to love God; and how we are to love each other.
And yet it is still so tough. Even though we know the way to act, we still can’t seem to get it right. Oftentimes, it is not the short-term relationships that are the most difficult. It is the relationships where we are invested: the relationships where we are committed for the long term.
In my experience getting to know married couples from all around the world, there always seems to be two different kinds of couples. Now both clearly have their issues. They have problems. They have had moments of darkness. They had moments where they could not stand the other person. They love as best as they can. But their relationships still pick up baggage along the way. The difference, though, between the two types of couples was almost always this: some are able to work towards healing, shedding the baggage that has accumulated along the way; and some are not. Those that work through the healing have their relationships purified and strengthened, and have a deep, abiding love that mirrors God’s own love for us. Those who do not drift further and further apart, until the bitterness and discord have simply become too much.
I think this is part of what happened between the Israelites and God. The relationship God continued to try to renew with his people had just become too filled with hardship, discord, and problems. Because of the actions of Israelites, there was too much baggage. So Jesus had to come to purify this relationship—to create it anew.
In the Gospel today we see Jesus doing exactly what he was sent to do: he is purifying the relationship between Israel and their God. In a forceful, zealous and even crazy way he is driving the impurities and the struggles and the hardships and the pain away from the from their relationship, by cleansing the temple, to bring about something new. He is helping Israel to get rid of its baggage, and to see that something new could be offered through him: that no matter what had taken place between God and his people, the relationship could still be healed and purified.
We are in the midst of the Lenten season. One of our Lenten traditions is to be purified, to drive out those things that we have accumulated that negatively affect our relationships: not only in our relationship with God, but in our relationship with others. Lent is about clearing out the obstacles, confronting the pain, healing the hurts, making something new out of something that perhaps has become old, tired, and in need of life.
And so I invite then, each of us here today, to consider doing the following two things. It will not be easy by any means. It will be painful. But just as God from almost the beginning of time has called us to be reconciled to him and each other, he still invites us to do the same today.
First, I want to speak to all of us here who are sons or daughters: this should include us all. We all have different experiences with our parents. Some wonderful. Some not so much. Some people’s experiences have probably been more painful than others. But I would invite us to consider the following: find sometime during Lent to repair the relationships with your parents. For some this might just be simply saying we are sorry for something that we have done to hurt them. For others, it might mean something much, much more. Perhaps offering forgiveness for being hurt. For some this might be nearly impossible. In the end, it might just be saying a prayer for them. But if we are able, during this Lent, to find a small way to heal this relationship—then purity might be brought into our lives.
Second, I want to speak to the married couples here. I of course don’t know first hand what it means to be married. I don’t claim to know the joys and the struggles. I don’t claim to have many answers at all. But I have had the chance to work with couples in many different stages of life. And I would like to make just one suggestion. Either before this Lent is over or sometime as soon as possible for you all to do this one thing.
Find a way to get away from the kids. Whether you can make it an entire evening away, or just one long afternoon. Go somewhere where it can be just you and your spouse. Turn off the phones. Turn off the TV. Turn off the computers. Then sit together, close, and hold each other’s hands. Look into each other’s eyes. Then taking turns, one of you say just a few ways in which over the last year you have been hurt by your spouse. It is not about making your spouse feel guilty or bad. It is not about winning. It is about being honest. As the one speaks the other just listens: no defense, no rebuttal; just listen. When your spouse is finished, then if you are able, simply apologize. Say you are sorry. Then allow the other person to do the same.
When you have finished take the opportunity to purify your marital love in the perfect way that God has given you to purify that love.
We all know that relationships are tough. Loving is tough. However, we have a God of reconciliation. We have a God who purifies us, and purifies our relationships. We have a God with the words of everlasting life.