3rd Sunday of Lent
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
9:30am and 11:15am
In the world of art, there is a type of painting called minimalism.
My understanding is that minimalism began as an artistic style in the 1960s. These artists depict an object – like an apple –in the starkest possible way.
They might paint a few red dots and some rounded lines more or less in the shape of an apple. But they would not represent the apple itself.
Minimalists depict only the bare essentials. They paint a minimum and that is why this style of art is called minimalism.
Today’s Scripture passages address the issue of religious minimalism.
The Old Testament passage gives us something very familiar – the Ten Commandments. These commandments have formed the foundation of Judeo-Christian morality for the past 3,000 years.
They are important and we need to obey them. But, these commandments are also minimalist and here is why I say that.
Notice in today’s gospel that Jesus is dealing with some people who are in the temple. They are obeying the basic commandment of keeping the Sabbath holy.
After all, they are there, in the temple. But, they are really not putting themselves into the prayer.
Instead, they are absorbed in the merchandising that is associated with temple sacrifice. So, they are keeping the religious law as it is literally written, but they are not observing its spirit.
Jesus gets angry with them. Why? Because they are religious minimalists.
Something like minimalist painters, they are only observing the law in a bare-bones way and have not put their heart into it. Jesus calls us to much more than this religious minimalism
We might say that he calls us to a religious or spiritual maximalism.
He wants us, for example, to look at the Ten Commandments and really put our heart into them. He wants us to go beyond the letter of the law and embrace its spirit.
Jesus wants us to do as much good as possible. That’s what I mean by a spiritual maximalism.
Let’s look at just two of the commandments as examples of this.
The commandment says: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”
The minimalist approach says: I come to Mass every Sunday. The maximalist approach says: I come to Mass and try to put myself into it.
I join in the prayers and try to take in what the readings are saying. I try to be aware of the Lord’s presence when I receive Communion.
And beyond that, I also try to pray every day and make every day a holy day. So, this is an illustration of the maximalist approach.
Let’s take one more commandment: “You shall not kill.”
The minimalist approach says: I would never think of killing or even physically harming another person. For the maximalist approach today, in our year 2018, this commandment is nudging at least me in a specific way.
I, personally, am thinking about the killing going on in our country. I am thinking that the commandment “You shall not kill” has something to say about the number of killings of adults and school children that is gong on.
So, I personally feel the need to look reasonably and calmly at where we are with some of our laws on firearms. I feel the need to look at existing background checks and see if we need stronger ones.
And I feel the need to question whether owning assault weapons should be part of the civil rights of the ordinary citizen. This, for me, is an illustration of the maximalist approach to the commandment about killing.
I want to conclude by looking at the conclusion of today’s gospel.
It says that some people “began to believe in Jesus because they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them because he understood human nature.”
Jesus sensed that they liked his healings of people—that is what is meant here by “signs.” But he also understood that they would probably revert to their pattern of observing the letter and not the spirit of the law.
They would go back to a minimalist approach and not accept the challenge of a maximalist approach. The passage leaves us with the question: what will we do today?