4th Sunday of Lent – Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
Our sins had made us exiles from God’s kingdom. But just as God sent Cyrus, the king of Persia, to bring his people back from Babylon, so in his great love he sent his Son, to bring us back to the ‘New Jerusalem’ to live the good life he had meant us to live .
The first reading insists on the responsibility of people who, by refusing to follow God’s way, condemn themselves to suffering and unhappiness.
We can do nothing to merit salvation, and our wicked actions could only cause our condemnation. God has given us salvation gratuitously, as the second reading tells us. Do we really wish to spend eternity with God? Do we really love God? God gives us a choice!
The Gospel joins these two themes; it first speaks of the love of God, which is so great that he gives us his only Son, and then it insists on the responsibility of people, who, challenged by this proposal of love, have to make their choice. Are we for or are we against Jesus?
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23.
The people in ancient times were sure that God showered his blessings on those who observed his laws and punished with bad luck those who failed to obey him. This idea of automatic retribution for one’s actions is also found in the Bible. The writer of the two books of Chronicles (the story of the people of Israel) is of that opinion, as we see in today’s reading. The question he asks himself is why has Israel been hit by so many calamities? And, in particular, why is it that 587 years before the coming of Christ, Jerusalem with its beautiful Temple was completely destroyed by the Babylonians? Many years have passed since the exile, and yet those who made it back to Jerusalem still keep asking themselves: how could this terrible thing happen to our people? They believed it happened because the people and their leaders and their priests were not faithful to the Law of God. The Lord loved the people of Israel and often sent his prophets to show them the way of life, but they usually ignored his counsels and scorned his messengers. It seemed that God punished Israel by causing its defeat and humiliation at the hands of its enemies.
The second part of the reading gives us another example of Israel’s disobedience. The people of Israel were expected to allow the land to rest every seventh year in order to allow the poor and the animals to feed on the spontaneous products of the soil. The rich did not do this anymore although it was required by the law (Lev 26:34). The people of Israel believed that God decided to punish this unfaithfulness by having all the inhabitants deported into exile for 70 years; thus the soil could rest for all the time that Israel had “stolen” from the Lord. In this chronicle of the last days of the kingdom of Israel, the thread finally snaps. The nation has become heedless of its covenant with God and the abominations mount. God had sent messengers in the form of prophets ‘early and often’, but no one had listened. Through their sins resulting in their own undoing, the people of Israel lose their discipline and direction as a strong and great nation and fall into the captivity of the Babylonians.
It is one of the curious details of the Hebrew story that the messenger they finally do heed to is the enemy. And by the hand of their enemy comes deliverance: Cyrus, the next king of Persia, will send the remnant of Israel home. It is true that Israel would never again be the political and social power that they had been in the days of David and Solomon. Rather than a people of large armies and vast areas of dominion, they would be a people whose uniqueness lay in their worship of God. Catastrophe has yielded to new hope. This double turning point in the history of the Israelites from independence to defeat, from defeat to restoration teaches us that God always loves and cares for his people, even when the people are unfaithful. It would therefore be a grave mistake to think that God is jealous and gets angry like a human, seeking punishment or revenge. Neither does God act like an accountant keeping a record of credits and debits and coldly draws the balance, handing out reward or punishment as the case may merit. This way of seeing our relationship with God is very primitive and always causes misunderstanding and completely ignores his gratuitous love for us.
Should we then consider that what the reading says today is wrong? What the author of the Book of Chronicles calls God’s punishment is usually what happens to a person every time he/she sins: he/she causes the ruin of self and others. Remember the proverb: “God never punishes people for their sins. It is the sin that punish them.” Can God speak to us through an enemy? It is an unsettling thought, but many saints swore by their enemies as their best teachers. If you are looking for real Lenten challenge, try hearing what God might be saying through an enemy.
The Psalm is a funeral lament of Israel in exile in Babylon. The river, which flowed through that city, reminded them of the streams of their tears. They could not sing songs of joy in a foreign land; they could not forget Jerusalem, their home. The Christian who understands what sin is, cannot forget the real home and the destiny God intends.
Key points in early Christian preaching were the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and his exaltation by God into the glory of heaven. The author of Ephesians believes that the Christian has been through the same experience. Sin brought death, but through baptism we rise to new life through our incorporation into Christ. This sin has been cancelled and already we have a place in heaven if we truly desire it.
Salvation is not given to people because of their merits; it is a gratuitous gift from the Father; so nobody can boast of the good they find in themselves, and no one should despise those who have not as yet opened up their hearts to his grace. Good works are the signs that the grace of God has penetrated into their hearts and is producing fruit.
Though it is true that human beings cannot gain salvation through their good works, it is also true that such good works are a necessary response to the love God has for his people and reflect our strong desire to be with Christ and our choices for eternity. God gives us a choice, Light or Darkness?
The Gospel of today is taken from the last part of the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. The chapter begins as Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus. He is curious to know Jesus better but is afraid of what the people may say; so he comes at night. Jesus explains that his coming to earth is the expression of the love of God for the world. But to appreciate this fully and to participate in the life of God, it requires a second birth.
In the part of the conversation we read today, Jesus speaks of a judgement that is taking place already. It is determined by the way people choose to accept his ‘Light’ or to continue to dwell in their darkness. Recognising the light leads to an increase of light, but choosing darkness leads eventually to death. And so the entry of light into the darkness sets off a process of judgement, which nobody can escape; because people sometimes prefer their darkness to the ‘Light’ of Christ.
Jesus also speaks of his coming death as a ‘lifting up’: through his elevation on the ‘Cross’ he will become a source of salvation for all those who believe. Jesus speaks about the lifting up of the ‘Son of Man’ as Moses lifted up the ‘bronze serpent’ in the desert. The people having turned against God were poisoned by snakebites. God in his mercy told Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and raise it aloft. All who raised their eyes to look up at it were healed. The people could return to God by turning their heart upwards to the ‘symbol’ of God’s intervention through his servant Moses. A journey from rebellion towards submission is being symbolically re-enacted out here, a movement that leads to new life.
Jesus sees his mission precisely as the expression of God’s love for the world in spite of the world’s rebellion against God. Looking up to the bronze serpent elevated by Moses helped avert the punishment due to Israel because of its rebellion. Likewise, turning one’s heart completely to Jesus, who in his humanity reveals God himself, leads to life.
For Jesus, the lifting up will be both shameful and painful. He is lifted up on the Cross. But then God will raise him to heaven. His ‘Way’ will be the way to eternal life for those who believe in him. By linking light and judgement stresses the importance for us of choosing Jesus. This entails us to act in a just and loving way and to reject those actions that belong to the darkness of sin.
Judgement is not going to happen in a remote future after our death. It is in fact happening right now in the choices we make for or against Jesus. In the text we have just read, Jesus says that God will never judge men and women (17; see also Jn 12:46-47). He wants every person to be saved. The real question is: ‘Do we want to be saved?’ Jesus will show us the ‘Way’!
God does not pronounce any sentence: each one of us does that as we stand in front of Christ.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following the 4th Sunday of Lent Year B, we reflect on …
Sun. … Do we sometimes feel that when bad luck befalls our families and when our community is hit by so many calamities, that God is punishing us for our sins? The commentary tells us that there is no automatic retribution from God. Our God is a God of love and forgiveness, not a god of punishment. When we start to follow directions other than the ‘Way’ we become self-seeking and fall into the temptations of sin, which invariably causes hurt and pain to us and others.
Mon. …We need to come to terms that times of ‘trial and sufferings’ are part of our very existence. When we lose faith and hope, we need to reflect on the suffering of many great saints for their faith and their triumph sometimes in martyrdom. In difficult times we have the opportunity to put our resolve and perseverance to the test and to prove to ourselves that as Christians we are able to carry our Cross and follow Jesus; and when necessary be a’ Simon of Cyrene’ to others. We must never allow ourselves to be defeated by the forces that are sent to test our faith.
Tues. … Let us consider the thought, ‘Many saints swore by their enemies as their best teachers’. Let us today accept the commentary’s challenge to try to hear what God may be saying to us through our enemies. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Jesus taught us to love our enemies?
Wed. … The Psalm is also a lament for us when we are separated from God. When we willingly offend God, we place ourselves into exile. God will always welcome his ‘prodigal child’ back home through the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’. Let us today plan to go back ‘home’ to our loving Father.
Thurs. … As our Lenten journey brings us closer to the Easter Vigil, let us reflect on our own Baptism and our incorporation into Christ. Whilst we cannot gain salvation through our own good works, our actions are the signs that God’s graces and blessings have been given to us. Sin brought death, but through baptism, our incorporation into Christ, this sin has been cancelled and already we have a place in heaven, if we truly desire it.
Frid. … On their journey to the’ Promised Land’ the Israelites turned against God and in doing so rejected his protection and were attacked by poisonous snakes. Through Moses, God provided the ‘Bronze Serpent’, a symbol of his love and forgiveness, which when elevated and looked upon saved those who had faith. Likewise when we give up our hearts to Jesus who was raised up on the Cross as a symbol of God’s love and forgiveness, we too can accept God’s gift of salvation.
Sat. …Our judgement is happening right now in the choices that we make each and every day for and against Jesus. God wants each one of us to be saved. We need always to follow the ‘Light” with love in our hearts in the ‘Way’ the Gospel has given us.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, teach us the people who bear the name of your Son, to follow the example he gave us. May our faith, hope and charity be the sign that Your grace is with us. May our hatred turn to love, our conflict to peace and our death in sin turn to eternal life.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.