IV Sunday of Lent

IV Sunday of Lent

Mer, 10 Mar 21 Lectio Divina - Anno B

2 Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23,  Ephe 2: 4-10, Jn 3:14-21

The fourth Sunday of Lent is sometimes called Laetare Sunday. Laetare is a Latin word that means “rejoice.” Traditionally, Sundays are named after the first word of the liturgy’s opening antiphon. On this Sunday, the antiphon is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Even as we observe our Lenten sacrifices, we rejoice in anticipation of the joy that will be ours at Easter.

This Sunday’s first reading etches the disastrous consequences that resulted from not listening to the voice of God, echoed by the prophets he sent, and from the malice with which God’s chosen people treated his messengers: “Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power” .

The Chronicler narrates in sweeping words the events that led to the violent capture of Jerusalem and the ignominious Babylonian Exile. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his troops destroyed Judah and Jerusalem in 587 B.C., sparing neither walls nor Yahweh’s temple, slaughtering the inhabitants and bringing the survivors as slaves into a hostile land. Their willful violation of God’s covenantal relationship and alienation from his guiding hand became an experience of hell - a physical, moral and spiritual experience of intense destruction and desolation as a nation. Wallowing in the wreckage of sin and humiliation, the deeply chastised Jewish people wept in a foreign land, aching for God and their true home: “By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. On the poplars of that land we hung up our harps” .

 The compassionate and merciful God, however, did not abandon his people in their self-inflicted misery. In his unmitigated love for his people, Yahweh used King Cyrus of Persia to promote his healing design for them. In 538 B.C. after having conquered the Babylonian empire, Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. With exhortation and blessing, the great Persian ruler, Cyrus, thus proclaimed in his edict: “All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!” . The edict of Cyrus, as cited by the Chronicler, end s in an exclamation of hope and blessing – in a note of triumph and liberation. As an instrument of God’s saving plan for his people, King Cyrus was a figure of the “messiah” – the anointed one - that God the Father would send in the fullness of time.

 This Sunday’s Old Testament reading is a beautiful backdrop for the ultimate loving design that God offers to his distressed people. Jesus – the Servant Son - the one whom the Father has sent for our total liberation and redemption, avows: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”.

The First reading insists on the fact that despite the unfaithfulness and the persistent pollution of the house of the Lord, God always sent his messengers because he had compassion  on his people and on his dwelling place. In his letter to the, Paul reminds the Ephesians that in his great mercy, God has sent his Son, not to condemn the world but to save it. Jesus was raised up on the cross of suffering as the final effort of God´s surpassing mercy to save us from that awful eventuality.

This abstract Gospel passage contains a number of wisdom statements and general truths that were born out of Jesus’ own experience and reflection. The “Lectio approach” invites us to remember experiences in our own lives that enable us to recognise the truths in these statements – we discover their truth in a personal way.

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from John’s Gospel. It consists of two parts. The first part is the final sentence of Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who approached Jesus at night. Nicodemus acknowledged Jesus as someone who had come from God and seemed to want to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus greeted Nicodemus with the observation that one must be born from above to see the Kingdom of God. The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus that followed was about the meaning of this phrase. Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus at every point, but there was no animosity in the questions he posed to Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish Ruling Council.  He was drawn towards Jesus and wanted to learn more about him.  Fear of being discovered by other Pharisees made him approach Jesus under cover of darkness. 

Through this Lenten passage the church seeks to help us to come out “into the light”.  The discourse that started with Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night ends with Jesus revealing himself as “the light” that would expel all darkness. When have we learned that “law of life”: that those who live their suffering in love: can offer a very powerful source of healing and hope to others  “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

In the part of the conversation with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel, Jesus referred to an incident reported in the Old Testament. When the Israelites grumbled against the Lord during their sojourn in the desert, God sent venomous serpents to punish them for their complaints. The Israelites repented and asked Moses to pray for them. The Lord heard Moses’ prayer and instructed him to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. All who had been bitten by a serpent and then looked upon the bronze serpent were cured. By recalling this story, Jesus alludes to the salvation that would be accomplished through his death and Resurrection.

The second part of today’s Gospel is a theological reflection on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. The Gospel of John is known for this kind of reflection offered within the narrative. The words of the Evangelist are in continuity with the words of the prologue to John’s Gospel. In these reflections, John elaborates on a number of themes that are found in his Gospel: light and darkness, belief and unbelief, good and evil, salvation and condemnation.

In John’s reflection, we find an observation about human sinfulness. Jesus is the light that has come into the world, but people preferred the darkness. We wish to keep our sins hidden, even from God. Jesus has come into the world to reveal our sins so that they may be forgiven. This is the Good News; it is the reason for our rejoicing in this season of Lent and throughout our lives.

Christ Jesus “lifted up” on the cross and raised in glory is the ultimate sacrament of God’s saving love. His crucifixion and dying on the cross is the climactic phase of the Father’s passionate pursuit of his people. In the oblation of God on the cross, the fullness of his loving mercy is radically revealed. Indeed, as we contemplate the sacrificial death of the Son of God on the cross, which led to glorification and our total salvation, we can not help but exclaim: “God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy”

 I find Jn 3:14-16 charged with Eucharistic meaning. Personally, it has been through my daily receiving and adoring Jesus in the Eucharist – through “gazing” at Jesus made Bread – broken and given for the world – that I have come to dimly grasp the unimaginable depth of the love of God for his creation, for the world, for each and every one of us. He not only suffered and died for us, but He also wanted to remain with us materially in the form of Bread to nourish and to heal us from the sting of sin during our earthly pilgrimage. It is, indeed, in Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, made Bread that we all can recover again our “connection” with our divine Source who is Love Himself.

In his dialogue with Nicodemus, there are three basic images we can meditate on: the necessity of being born again in order to live a new life in the Spirit; the sacrifice of Jesus which brings salvation to believers; and God’s immense love for the world, which he expresses by giving us his Son and to which the only appropriate response is for us to now love others as Jesus does, becoming ourselves channels of God’s love for the world. From this last image we may concentrate on the citation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

During this season of Lent, let us meditate on the love of Christ, who, being God, accepted to become man and to suffer and die on Calvary just to save us and make us sharers of Divine Life, of Divine Love. And that is absolutely what love is: “not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins”.

 

Are we willing to follow Christ to Calvary? Are we willing to empty ourselves of our egoism and become channels of His love? He is here lifted up not only on the Cross, but risen and victorious in the Monstrance upon the Altar, in every tabernacle, in the very center of our own hearts, silently loving and accepting us just as we are: “If God so loves us, we must also love one another” . Come then, let the Blessed Sacrament heal and transform us. The world needs LOVE; the world needs JESUS CHRIST!

  Can we remember experiences that have taught us the meaning of true love: namely, to give up that which is most precious to us – “he gave his only Son”- so that others might find life, “eternal life” – a deeper and fuller life, contentment, fulfillment and security?

Can we remember people in our lives – parents, teachers, friends etc., who came to us at a moment of failure or weakness with that life-saving attitude “not wanting to condemn .. but so that through them we might be saved”?

Can we remember experiences that have taught us that it wasn’t so much in criticising or threatening others that we succeeded in getting through to them, but above all, by the example of our own lives, being true to ourselves, to our values and principles, “letting our light come into their world?

Dear Lord, help us keep our eyes on you. You are the incarnation of Divine Love; you are the expression of God’s infinite compassion; you are the visible manifestation of the Father’s holiness. You are beauty, goodness, gentleness, forgiveness, and mercy. In you all can be found. Outside of you nothing can be found. Why should we look elsewhere or go elsewhere? You have the words of eternal life; you are food and drink; you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You are the light that shines in the darkness, the lamp on the lamp stand, the house on the hilltop. You are the perfect Icon of God. In and through you we can see the Heavenly Father, and with you we can find our way to him. O Holy One, be our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Guide,our Counselor, our Comforter, our Hope, our Joy and our Peace. To you we want to give all that we are. Let us be generous. Let us give you all – all I have, think, do and feel. Please accept it and make it your own.