Sermon: Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The Five Monkeys Experiment. Five monkeys were placed in a pen together. Dangling from the ceiling was a rope, and a cluster of bananas was at the top of the rope. One of the monkeys spots the bananas and begins to climb the rope. Immediately, the experimenters spray all five monkeys with freezing cold water for five minutes. Once they recover, a second monkey gives it a try, and again, they are all sprayed with freezing water. Afterward, none of the monkeys tried for the bananas, and the experimenters never used the water again.

After some time, one of the five monkeys is replaced. The newcomer sees the bananas and starts to climb the rope but is quickly pulled back down by the other four. The newcomer tries several times, but the result is the same, so he eventually stops trying. 

Over time, all five of the original monkeys are replaced with newcomers. None of the monkeys in the pen have ever been sprayed with freezing water, but anytime a new monkey is introduced into the enclosure, it will be attacked if it attempts to climb the rope. 

If the monkeys could respond and were asked why they refused to climb for the bananas and attacked any that tried, even though they had no knowledge of the freezing water, they would likely respond, “Because we’ve always done it this way.”

Regarding the Law, Moses said to the people, “Take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.” And the people obeyed, teaching the Law from one generation to the next. Jesus believed that the Law was good, for He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill,” but he was very critical of the way the Law was being taught. 

No–in no way shape or form am I comparing God’s Chosen People to monkeys, but the way they taught the Law was similar to those monkeys in the pen. The first generation knew the “Why” behind their actions—climb the rope and get sprayed by freezing water—yet subsequent generations only behaved in a certain way because it was how they had always done it. The teaching of the Law was done similarly. All it accomplished—when it worked, which wasn’t very often—was to conform the people’s actions to how they had always done it, but it did nothing to draw them nearer to God, which was the original intent of the Law, and this is why Jesus was so critical.

We know that sin separates us from God, so God gave the Law that we might know sin. St. Paul teaches us, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” (Romans 7:7) Therefore, the Law was to be taught and obeyed, not to avoid or fear God spraying us with freezing water, but so that we could have the means to draw closer to Him. Jesus’ words and deeds, His life and death, all declared that what the people were doing was not working, so through His death and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled the Law. In doing so, He restored us to God and made us one with Himself and the Father.

We follow the Law by following Jesus. Not out of fear, but out of relationship… out of love.

Spend some time considering your relationship with God. Ask yourself, “Am I following Jesus because ‘This is the way we’ve always done it’ or because I’m in love with Jesus?” The answer may help you draw nearer to our God.

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