Beware the ides of March.” The famous line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” has transformed what is a descriptive term for the 15th of March into an ominous warning. The soothsayer warns Caesar to be careful on the said date as there is a threat to his life.
He ignores the warning, which leads to his assassination. It is argued that this arrogance or hubris caused his downfall. With hubris, in the Greek mind, destruction is inevitable as one challenges the gods.
Today’s readings are apt on this third Sunday of Lent: the 10 Commandments in the first reading; the responsorial psalm citing the word and law of God as sources of life; St. Paul exalting Christ as the wisdom and power of God, how “the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Then the Gospel is the story of the Cleansing of the Temple, where Christ shows his anger in the most public display of his frustration. This anger is not simply due to the marketplace atmosphere, but more so the corruption and exploitation of the poor that it perpetuates.
The moneychangers bring the pilgrims’ money, as they can use only local currency, and this is done at a huge, usurious profit to the moneychangers. The sellers of the animals for sacrifice in the temple do the same. There are other sellers outside the temple, but undue advantage is given to those in the temple, as any sacrifice bought outside is eventually rejected by the temple authority.
And the crowning hubris is that all this is done not just under the nose of the temple leaders or bosses, but in connivance with them, as this is good business that exploits both rich and poor.
Today’s readings serve as “fair warning” that God’s providence will always work out to make things right. But this is not the deus ex machina intervention. God intervenes in human events through human choices.
The freedom to choose is one of God’s greatest gifts as an expression of his great love for humanity. His dramatic interventions in the stories of the 10 Commandments and the Cleansing of the Temple are reminders to help our formation.
More than fair warning, these assure the oppressed, as well as the people who struggle to follow the way of God, and those who waver in the face of evil’s seeming victory.
“Beware the ides of March” was a warning that an evil plot was being hatched against Caesar’s life.
In the same way, Lent gives us not so much warnings but reminders of the freedom we have to choose, what is “right and just” according to the way of the Lord.
The climax of Lent is the Holy Week Triduum: the Holy Thursday Washing of the Feet at the Last Supper, the Veneration of the Cross, and the Easter Vigil in Celebration of the Resurrection. They remind and show us the greatest freedom borne out of the greatest love.
We must use the freedom won for us by Christ’s Cross and Resurrection to make this world a better place. It is perhaps not even enough that we avoid evil, but we must choose to work for the good, side with the victims of greed, corruption, oppression and the intoxication that power brings.
Lent and Holy Week remind us that it is not enough to simply “have something to live on, something to live for,” because a genuine life of Christian discipleship and service is to have “something to die for.” —CONTRIBUTED