18Mar 18 March. 4th Sunday of Lent

2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23. For their sins the people were exiled to Babylon. But God’s mercy intervenes to give them a joyful home-coming.

Eph 2:4-10. We are saved not through our own efforts but through the mercy of God.

Jn 3:14-21. God sent his only Son, not to condemn but to save us.

Love Lifted Up (Kathryn Williams)

Have you noticed the types of phrases we use when describing something wonderful? I catch myself saying things like being ‘over the moon’ or ‘on cloud-nine’. A friend talks about being in the ‘seventh heaven!’ Now, that admission may say a lot both of us, but I can’t help thinking that our deepest experiences are those that have a power to lift us up. Such experiences take us out of ourselves. They uplift us and we perceive things differently.

Jesus is always inviting us to see things differently. When Nicodemus sought out Jesus, he was in the dark – both really and symbolically. He couldn’t see clearly. In the years that followed this late night conversation, Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus and, step by step, was drawn to see things differently. At last he finally did see. When at the end, Jesus was really and truly lifted up, Nicodemus was not too far away.

When we meditate on the crucifix and participate in the Eucharist we also see Jesus lifted up. Perhaps today as I lift my eyes to see him, I might ponder on the mystery of suffering and exaltation and wonder at the love that is lifted up and draws us ever closer, uplifting us as well.

God’s Work Of Art (Martin Hogan)

A grimy painting hung for many years on the wall of a dining room in a Jesuit house in Dublin. No one paid much attention to it until one day someone realized that this could be a work of great value. Under investigation by art experts, it turned out that this painting was the work of no less than the great Caravaggio of Rome. His painting of the arrest of Jesus in the garden now hangs in our National Art Gallery, and is one of the Gallery’s great treasures. All that time it had hung in the dining room, it was no less a treasure, but its real value went unrecognized. It hung there waiting for someone to recognize its true worth, its value as a work of art.

In the second reading Paul states that “we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life.” Like that painting, we can go unnoticed as a work of art, especially to ourselves. We don’t tend to think of ourselves as a work of art. Yet, as Paul reminds us in our second reading, God sees us as works of art. Like the person who spotted the Caravaggio painting, God knows our true worth, our true value, and through the prophet Isaiah says, “You are precious in my sight, and I love you.” We are as God’s works of art, precious in his sight.

We can think of other people as works of art also. These are people we value greatly, people we treasure, whose worth to us is beyond price. When someone is a treasure to us, we don’t count the cost in their regard. We will do anything we can for them. We will travel long distances to see them; we will stay up half the night to be with them if they are ill; we will defend and protect them with all our passion when necessary. We keep faith in them, be faithful to them, even when that makes great demands on us. We value them, simply, for who they are.

Our experience of how we relate to those we value gives us a glimpse of how the Lord relates to us. God loves us in a way that does not count the cost. The gospel reading today expresses that truth simply: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son.” God sent us his Son out of love for us and that sending became a giving when his Son was put to death on a cross. As Paul says in the second reading, “God loved us so much that he was generous with his mercy.” We are of such value in God’s eyes that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all. It is therefore not surprising that the cross has become the dominant symbol of Christianity. It is not because we glorify suffering, but because in the cross we recognise the extent to which God is prepared to go for love of us.

Lenten Growth (John Walsh)

The word Lent is derived from an Old English term, “lencten,” meaning “spring.” And just as spring is a period when nature prepares to clothe itself in a mantle of fresh growth, a wonderful flowering of new life, in the same way Lent is meant to renew our understanding of the events of Calvary, events which led to a new, glorious existence for Jesus Christ, our Saviour. In order to begin to comprehend the significance for us of those events, we must first try and understand the meaning of our own lives and of our destiny as well.

Change will only come through grace. It has been said that to grow is to change, and to be perfect is to change many times. We should of course bear in mind that in matters of grace God always takes the initiative. To each of us at baptism he gives the light of Christ, signified by the baptismal candle. In return, just like the Israelites at Mount Sinai, we take on ourselves certain obligations. Following their example we make the same promise they made, “You will be our God, and we will be your people.” At every Mass that is celebrated we come into the presence of God, and we are asked to renew those promises made on our behalf at baptism. At the beginning of this Mass we have begged forgiveness for our sins. Let us promise to follow God where he would lead us by the faith which we now profess in the Creed.

We see in our own time a growing concern about material things, and a corresponding neglect of the spiritual aspirations of human nature. But each of us can say, there will come a moment in my life when all that will matter is myself and God, and then I will have to face the truth about myself, how I have allowed God to touch my life and use me as an instrument of His love.

The Giraffe Sensation (Paul Francis Spencer)

When I was a boy, I read in a children’s book the true story of the great excitement in England when the first giraffe was brought to a zoo on London. There were lengthy reports in the newspapers, giving exact descriptions of this extraordinary animal. It seems that one old man, living in the country, thought that the whole thing was just a trick to sell newspapers and that no such animal could possibly exist, so some of his friends brought him up to London to convince him. At the zoo, he stood in silence for a long time, gazing at the thin legs, the large body covered in dark patches, the long, long neck with the strange head at the end of it; then he turned to his friends and said, “I still don’t believe it.” In spite of the great lengths his friend had gone to in order to convince him, he was still free to believe or not.

The gospel today speaks  of the amazing lengths to which God was prepared to go to convince us of his love for us (as St. Paul says, “What proves God’s love for us is that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”) The picture of God we find in all three readings today is that of a lover who knows no limit to his love. When the people were unfaithful, acting shamefully and defiling the dwelling-place of God, he did not put them out of his mind. After the exile in Babylon, he brought them back to the land he had given them, using the Persian king, Cyrus, as his instrument.

This same God, who brought a people back from exile, sent his Son to rescue us from the exile of sin. For what is sin, other than a wandering from God, going into another land, choosing to live on alien soil, and then discovering, like the psalmist, that on that alien soil we cannot sing the song of the Lord? It is precisely at this point that our gracious God intervenes, calling us back to our own land. So it is that St Paul writes, “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.” Yet in all of this, he draws us to himself; he doesn’t push. He leaves us free to come back to him or not.

In this context, Jesus speaks about those who prefer darkness to the light because their deeds are evil. There are still those who prefer darkness to the light, just as there were those who preferred Babylon to Jerusalem, or indeed Egypt to the Promised Land. The benefit of staying in darkness is that we are able to say that we can’t see what we should be doing. In other words, when we stay in the dark, we don’t have to move. So we can go through life, refusing to believe in God’s love by keeping him at a distance. Saint Teresa of Avila once wrote that if for one instant we let the love of God penetrate our hearts, then all things will become easy for us. The corollary of this is that if we stay in the dark, refusing to let his love penetrate our heart, then nothing gets easy, and we can take refuge in the impossibility of living.

The who refused to believe in the giraffe didn’t want to have to change his view of things. To look upon Jesus lifted on the Cross, to believe in the love of God he shows on the Cross demands an infinitely greater change in our way of viewing things. This change can be brought about by God, if we open ourselves to it. Then it is that we become what St Paul calls “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.”

First Reading: Second Book of Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23

All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abomination of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.

They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.”

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Gospel: John 3:14-21

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

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