FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 | Psalm 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6 | Ephesians 2:4-10 | John 3:14-21
We’ve roughly reached the midpoint of Lent. On Laetare Sunday, we look with expectation to the great Solemnity of Easter for which we have been preparing ourselves as a Church during Lent. This Sunday of rejoicing is meant to give us hope and encouragement as we slowly progress towards the Paschal Feast.
José Andrés, chairman and chief executive officer of a successful business empire called Father Luciano Rossi, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Caloocan City and told the priest that he thought Ramón, his son, was in his city involved in substance abuse. He asked the priest if he would try to find the boy and do something with him. Fr. Rossi found Ramón and facilitated his voluntary surrender, detoxification and psycho-spiritual rehabilitation. Six months clean, recovered meth addict Ramón is now ready to go home. Fr. Rossi told the boy to pick up the extension and he would call his father. The priest told Don José Andrés that his son has fully recovered and found a new life in Jesus Christ. The father replied, “I don’t care about that, I want to know how long his hair is, has he taken a bath, will he apologize to his mother?” Ramón ran out of the facility and Don José Andrés never saw him again.
This father’s love was conditional: if you meet these requirements, I’ll love you. But fortunately for us, God’s love is unconditional. He loves us for who we are and not for what we are. We don’t have to set ourselves straight before God can pour out his love over to us. He loves us simply because he loves us. We don’t have to work for his affection. In the readings for this weekend, God reveals how He loved us from the very beginning, even while we remained unconscious and unaware of his compassion for us. In the first reading, the people of Judah are "practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord's temple". God sends His prophets to warn them, but they do not listen. As a result, the Babylonians sack Jerusalem, burn down the Temple, and take the Lord's people captive. Even though the Jewish people deserve this sad fate, God loves them too much to abandon them. He leads King Cyrus and the Persians to conquer Babylon, set the Jews free, and restore the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish people did nothing to earn this deliverance, but in His mercy God rescued them anyway.
Way back in my high school days, we formed human pyramids and towers during our SANGKAN, an inter-seminary sporting event for high school seminarians. To form a human pyramid, we knelt on top of each other at five levels and some students make a circle and stand on the shoulders of those below them. Normally the heavier and stronger ones are tasked to hold the basement of each figure while the lighter and more flexible ones take the upper positions that require more control of the body. Back then I weigh a whopping 215 pounds so I was always at the bottom of the tiers. This cheer stunt has taught me important lessons. No one can get to the top of the pyramid without stepping on the bottom rows. And the lowest row in the pyramid always has to sacrifice their body through pain, pressure, and discomfort, in order for one person to reach the top.
In the pyramid of eternity, God does the hard work on the bottom so that we can reach the top. God orchestrated a plan for our redemption. He provided a Savior who can lead us to freedom from sin and restore our relationship with Him. He gave it all. He gave the best, His Son Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul says that even while we were "dead in our transgressions," God's great love for us "brought us to life with Christ". We did nothing to merit redemption, which is why St. Paul says, "It is the gift of God".
I remember meeting for the first time my new parish priest, Fr. Jesus Jose Bustillo, a missionary from Papua New Guinea. He was sharing with us altar boys and our parents interesting and curious facts about "The Land of a Thousand Cultures" and then he said, "Now, boys, I want to tell you the kind of Gospel we preach to the people of Papua New Guinea. How many good boys have we here?" A lot of us thought we were good, but our mothers were there, and so not one of us dared hold up his hand or our mothers would pinch us on the underside of our arm! "Well," said he, "not one good boy here; then I have the same message for you that we have for the pagans living in Madang area. God loves naughty boys. I thought, "Oh my! He is getting all mixed up," for you see I had heard my grade school Religion teacher say, "If you are a good boy God will love you." This priest made me realize that is not true. God is not waiting for us to be good so He can love us; God loves sinners. He showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
In the Gospel, we read one of the most recognized passages in the Bible, John 3:16, that summarizes the free gift of God's love. It says, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." God loved the world into being, and did not stop loving us even when we rebelled against Him. He did not fall out of love with us when we turned our backs on Him. Christ's sacrifice on the Cross did not all of a sudden change God's mind from condemnation to mercy. Our salvation began with God's unchanging love, which persisted even while we "preferred darkness to light". Human love, of course, can fail. Some parents tragically abandon their kids, and millions have even aborted their children. Sometimes spouses divorce, and families fall apart. Our human love for each other can only endure so much wrong. But God's love can bear any evil, any rebellion on our part. He loves us as we are and not as we should be. No matter how far we've strayed, we can be sure that He's fighting right now to bring us close to Him so that He can pour out His grace upon us and give us eternal life. As the most merciful Father, He wants what's best for us, even when we don't know any better. With God there is mercy and fullness of redemption. As daily act of love and gratitude for Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, let us make that conscious decision to abide by his commands and work our salvation everyday with fear and trembling. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum