4th Sunday of Lent Year B

Dear all,
Behold the reflection for this 4th Sunday of Lent
Fara Wo Milan
4th Sunday of Lent Year B
First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14‑16, 19‑23
All the heads of the priesthood, and the people too, added infidelity to infidelity, copying all the shameful practices of the nations and defiling the Temple that the Lord had consecrated for himself in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, tirelessly sent them messenger after messenger, since he wished to spare his people and his house. But they ridiculed the messengers of God, they despised his words, they laughed at his prophets, until at last the wrath of the Lord rose so high against his people that there was no further remedy.

Their enemies burned down the Temple of God, demolished the walls of Jerusalem, set fire to all its palaces, and destroyed everything of value in it. The survivors were deported by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon; they were to serve him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. This is how the word of the Lord was fulfilled that he spoke: through Jeremiah, Until this land has enjoyed its Sabbath rest, until seventy years have gone by, it will keep Sabbath throughout the days of its desolation.

And in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord that was spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom: Thus speaks Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; he has ordered me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up. The word of the Lord.
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4‑10

God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ - it is through grace that you have been saved - and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus. This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it. The word of the Lord.

Gospel: John 3:14‑21
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “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. Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son. On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil. And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed; but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.” The Gospel of the Lord.

4th Sunday of Lent Year B
2 Chron. 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph. 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
The Import of Divine Love
From the desert, to the mountaintop, to the temple and now here we are in the night – in plain darkness – where Nicodemus, a Pharisee, meets Jesus and serious catechesis takes place; in the night where Jesus makes it clear to him that he must be a man of light. This far is the Lenten journey we have been making so far. Nicodemus is a man who fears the day, he does not want to be identified as a disciple of Jesus and so he meets him only by night. Last Sunday we reflected very much on the action of Jesus in the temple and on the attitude of leading authorities towards the temple. The first reading of today seems to be a reiteration of last Sunday’s Gospel. Nevertheless it goes further and shows that after all is said and done, the Lord still gives another chance. This same message is re-echoed in the second reading, which explains the reason why we never remain condemned to our sinful ways but are forgiven and saved through the grace of Christ. This is also the theme of the catechesis that Nicodemus listens to from the mouth of Jesus himself.

“Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life”. This infinite love of God traveled a long way throughout the history of salvation, before expressing itself in a definitive and ultimate way in Jesus Christ, as we are told in the Gospel. The first reading shows us God’s love at work in a surprising way, through anger and punishment, in order to arouse repentance and conversion in the people. The letter to the Ephesians lays emphasis, on the one hand, on our lack of love which causes death, and on the other, on God’s love, which makes us live again together with Jesus Christ. In everything and above all, we see God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the love of the Father expressed in human, historical and concrete form. All of the history of God with man, as it is presented in the Bible, is a striking story of love. God, who out of love creates, gives life, chooses a people in order to make himself present among men, becomes flesh in Jesus Christ to save us. And then there is man, who out of pride rejects that love and seeks to “create himself,” “give himself life,” “choose himself” through his power and imperial ambition, “save himself” with science and technology, with parapsychology and cosmic “religions” – in short, man tries to make God into his (man’s) own image and likeness. It would seem that man understands the things of God the wrong way around. It would seem that God would like to teach man to spell out love in his mind and life, while man is only capable of pronouncing words of selfishness, hatred or indifference to anything that does not concern him. It would seem that, instead of being the supreme form of divine love, Jesus is, on the contrary, the cause of man’s confusion, of his feeling of failure, of his alienating frustration. And so we are bound to ask: What is it that goes on in the human heart that prevents it from discovering in Jesus Christ the sublimity of God’s love?
There are two forms of love in play here. Both loves seek the good of the loved one.
However, the ways in which this good is sought may vary. Before a rebellious people or a rebellious heart, closed to the ways of God, divine love takes on harsh manifestations which try to induce man to reflect, to repent and to convert. This is what we say in last Sunday’s gospel when Jesus whipped people out of the temple because of zeal for God’s house. Thus in the first reading of today, when faced with the haughty attitude of the people, God promises the taking of Jerusalem, the killing of many of its inhabitants, the pillaging of the city, bondage and exile to Babylon. God acted this way in a supreme effort of his love which seeks to bring a genuine conversion to the inhabitants of Jerusalem through their recognition of divine love. But it is only God who has the authority to do such a thing; Jesus his Son also has this prerogative.

However, there is another form of the expression of divine love, which is grace, the gift of salvation for those who welcome it and allow it to bear fruit. This is the form that fulfils the first. Those that welcome it “...are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life” as we are told in the second reading. These good works are the works of love, with which the believer responds to God’s love, for love is reciprocal. There is a divine hunger for human love and there is a human hunger for divine love – reason why God sent his own Son. In the person of Jesus, two hungers meet and two hungers are satisfied.

As a formidable educator of peoples, God uses either form of love with the only goal of finding reciprocal love in man. God knows full well that the greatness and happiness of man lies solely in loving and in being loved and these are fulfilled only in God, since God alone is love. To love God is to give oneself, to deliver oneself to him, to seek the good of the loved one. This form of love is not the most common among men, nor is it easy to attain. It rather occurs more frequently that people close themselves in on their own world and make themselves the subject and object of their own love. People “take advantage” of the other (husband or wife, father or son, friend, creditor or customer, student or teacher, parish priest or parishioner, etc.) to satisfy their own egos, interests, tastes and passions. It is more frequent for us to seek our own good than to want the good of others; to care for ourselves instead of doing good unto others. It is easier not to give oneself, not to do anything for others, not to help those that are in need, not to cooperate in the different activities of the parish, not to seek concrete ways of loving God, the Blessed Virgin, our loved ones, our brothers in faith, and all people, regardless of religion, race or status. This may be so because of a minimalistic morality of avoiding to commit oneself for fear of falling rather than committing oneself towards a just course. However, in most cases what is more frequent and easier is not what is best, not even for ourselves. We must convert ourselves to Love: the love that is at work in us because God gives it to us and we welcome it with joy. We must convert ourselves to Love, which takes us out of our shell and places us “without defense” before others, so that we may live by the power of Love.

It is high time we stop living in the darkness like Nicodemus and come out but in the light of day. We would do this if we first believe that the light we are coming into is not the light of condemnation. We are afraid of standing in a place that is overlit, over-exposed and defenceless. But that is a dark image of God. God is not waiting outside the door from the dark, ready to humiliate us with the light of faith. No! The purpose of the light is to enlighten, not to blind. God wants us to see into the light. After all, we are his work of art, created in Jesus Christ to live the good life as in the beginning he had meant us to live it. No artist would prefer his work to remain in his cupboard, but it is always the desire of every artist to see his work admired in clear light.

Yes, “Christian” means “human”. It would be good to be able to say, “I am a Christian and everything human concerns me”. The Second Vatican Council has taught us that “Christ reveals man to man.” We are not going to find genuine humanity in dirty business, obscene films and TV programs or articles in the press, in the invasion of sounds of famous “infamous” musicians, in the fleeting pleasure of alcohol and drugs or in the false solidity of a deteriorated relationship. “Man” is present in all of these instances, but not the “human” dimension, not the values which stem from his dignity as image and son of God. Pope John Paul II likes to repeat that “the person is the path of the Church,” and we could also add that “being Christian is the path for the person”. In our deeds of darkness we are not capable of seeing the real face of man. It is evident that we are here referring to a Christian who is really a Christian, a man who is measured in terms of his vocation and dignity, not according to other parameters.

This is why at the approach of the third millennium some said that “the Third Millennium will either be Christian, or simply will not be,” for they thought that in this millennium, man would end up destroying himself. If this is true, isn’t it worthwhile to live out the Christian vocation all the way? Why not struggle to establish in society a true humanism, a Christianity lived out with genuineness? It’s worth it and we can make it. Yes, we can!
From another Perspective
What is it that makes us rejoice?
The entrance antiphon of today shocks us with the following words: “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her” (Entrance Antiphon – Isaiah 66:10-11). Why does the church invite us in the middle of the penitential season of Lent to rejoice? The story of a little incident that took place in Mainz in 1456 when Gutenberg was printing the first printed Bible can help us with the answer. The printer had a little daughter, Alice, who came into the printing press and picked up a discarded sheet with only one line of print. That line of print read: “God loved the world so much that he gave...” Now, those were times when popular religion was a matter of living in fear and trembling before the awesome wrath of God. So Alice put the paper in her pocket and kept on thinking on the fact of God being so loving, and her face radiated with joy. Her mother noticed her changed behaviour and asked Alice what was making her so happy and Alice showed her mother the sheet of paper with the printed line. Her mother looked at it for some time and said, “So, what did God give?” “I don’t know,” said Alice, “but if God loved us well enough to give us something, then we need not be so afraid of Him as we have always been.”

Love, together with its fruits, is the only thing that makes many people happy. But what is love? What does it mean to say God loves us? To understand what the Bible means by God’s love we must bear in mind that whereas the Greek language has three different words for three different types of love English has only one. In Greek we have (1) eros meaning romantic love (like the love between a man and a woman that leads to marriage), (2) philia meaning fellowship love (like the love for football which brings people together to form a fan club), and there is (3) agape or sacrificial love (like the love that makes a mother risk her own life for her yet unborn child). In romantic love we long to receive, in fellowship love we long to give and take, in sacrificial love we long to give. Now, with what kind of love does God love us? God loves us with agape or sacrificial love. “God loved the world so much that He gave…” That is one big difference between God and us: God gives and forgives, we get and forget. Giving is a sign of agape. This is the kind of love God has for us.
This is the kind of love we should have for one another. This is the kind of love that is lived in heaven. And where this kind of love is absent, what you get is hell and we know about people living this hell here on earth.
A certain saint asked God to show her the difference between heaven and hell. So God sent an angel to take her, first to hell. There she saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, “Why are you not eating?” And he pointed to their hands. A long fork about 4 meters long was strapped to each hand such that each time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. “What a pity” exclaimed the saint! Then the angel took her to heaven. There the saint was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with the same length of fork fork strapped to each person’s arm as he had seen in hell.
But unlike in hell, the people here were happy and laughing. “What!” exclaimed the saint to one of them, “How come you are happy in this condition?” “You see,” said one man in heaven, “Here we feed one another.”
Can we say that of our families, our neighbourhood, our church, our world? Do we feed each other? If we can say that, then we are not far from the kingdom of heaven. Today the Church invites us to reflect on God’s love for the world and to be joyful because of it. God loves each and everyone of us, so much so that He give us His only son. Today we are invited to say yes to God’s love. It is sometimes hard to believe that God loves even me, but I believe it because I know that God loves unconditionally; no ifs, no buts. Then we can love God back and enter into a love relationship with God. Then, like little Alice, our faces will radiate the joy of God’s love. Then we shall learn to share God’s love with those around us. Then we shall learn to give to God and to one another. Let us once more listen to how God loves us as Jesus tells us “Take this, all of you, and eat of it… and drink from it”. The Eucharist is for us the sign of God’s love, where he gives us his Son in the form of bread and wine. Let us thank him for this gift for “Eucharist” is also thanksgiving. This is what should make us rejoice. Amen.
Be a light to the world and salt to the earth

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