Third Sunday of Lent – John 3:14-21

A Reflection on the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent 2024 by Rt. Rev. Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury.

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The Gospel proclaimed on the Third Sunday of Lent, brings us in Our Lord’s company from the splendour and vastness of the Temple of Jerusalem to the deepest interior of the human heart.  The Gospel ends with these words “He could tell what a man had in him”.  We are led to see a connection between the dramatic episode of the cleansing of the temple from all the uproar and disorder of traders and money lenders to the Lenten call to purify our own hearts from everything which does not serve and worship God.  

It is important to note that it isn’t trade, or indeed any honest human work, which does not serve God.  Nor is it that we are not called to pray in the midst of our busy lives.  Rather the Gospel teaches that we are called to keep our hearts free and unencumbered in order that we may encounter the living God in prayer. As a bishop of the 6th Century commented, we must desire that our souls are as clean and ordered as we would wish to find our churches.  

Saint John Henry Newman was struck by the silent attentiveness he found in the poorest backstreet chapels, where he saw the faithful focused not on themselves but on Emmanuel – ‘God with us’ – in the Mystery of the Eucharist.  Today Pope Francis often speaks of our churches as places in which all humanity is called to this encounter.  Yet, even in a Catholic church where Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist is its living heart, we can experience the distracting noise of chatter which takes away the quietness that allows us to be attentive to the Lord and diverts us from entering conversation with Him.  

This can be true in our own hearts if we allow the vital place of prayer and union with Him to be invaded by the uproar of noise or disordered things. The 40 days of Lent invite us to seek such a purification of heart.  The means are always the same:  receiving the grace of the Sacrament of Penance by sincere confession of our sins; giving greater time to prayer; and the self-denial and generosity which enables us to put aside all those things which encumber us.  We journey to Easter so that “The light of Christ rising in glory (may) dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds” (Liturgy of the Easter Vigil).     

Rt. Rev. Mark Davies
Bishop of Shrewsbury