Homily for March 15, 2015: 4th Sunday of Lent: Msgr. Jim Miller

Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 15, 2015

Reading 1 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23

Responsorial Psalm Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6

R. Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

Reading 2 Eph 2:4-10

Gospel Jn 3:14-21

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The first reading is from Second Chronicles.  The two books of Chronicles repeat history already recorded in the Old Testament, but they offer it again through the lens of religious and spiritual interpretation.  In Second Chronicles the writer places the Temple and the community’s temple practices as central to Judaism.  In today’s passage the chronicler makes the connection that, as the Jews fell away from their attachment to their Temple worship and practices, the nation suffered; the Temple itself was destroyed, and many were exiled into Babylon as servants and slaves.

How could lax religious practices lead to the fall of a mighty nation?  Simply put, without meaningful religious practices the Jews lost a sense of who they were.  In their behavior they compromised their way toward defeat and destruction by letting themselves believe that religious discipline did not matter.

The present commitment to church attendance in the United States is an area of concern to me.   At present only about 30 % of a congregation is present on a given weekend.   I remember when it was certainly over 50 % and probably approaching 65 to 75 % attendance.   Of course there is more to being a disciple than being at Mass.   When we leave Mass we have the obligation to take the Good News home with us to share with others by our actions.   We are to be God’s light and God’s love to others. 

This brings to my mind March Madness and all the interest that many of us have in basketball.   We can be thinking of watching or listening to the Wahlert boys basketball team tonight or maybe catching at least a half of the Cyclone game after Mass.   Think about how much time you may spend watching basketball or filling out the brackets for the NCAA Tournament and compare it to how much time you spend with the Lord in prayer alone or with others.   We do not have to give up basketball—I really enjoy it—but don’t forget what is most important—in the final analysis, basketball is a game—our relationship with the Lord is about eternal life!!

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us of God’s great love for us, that even when we were dead because of our sins, we are brought “to life with Christ--by grace you have been saved—“.    Paul also writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God.”  We have to be careful when reading the Bible that we do not draw conclusions before we compare what is written in one place without looking at what is written in other places.   For example in Philippians 2:12 Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  And the letter of James 2:14, 17, 24 states, What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?  Can his faith save him? . . . So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. . . .You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Then in the Gospel of John we read the familiar verse 3:16, “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.”  Does this mean that all I have to do is believe?   What is it that we are to believe?  Jesus says that we are to believe in the Son of Man lifted up.  There’s no doubt that he’s referring to the cross.  And what is the cross but the revelation of a God loving enough to suffer death without revenge, powerful enough to overcome death?

In John’s Gospel, the cross was Jesus’ hour of glory(12:23)  The message of today’s readings is that it is not his glory alone.  We, too, can share in his freedom and life if only we believe.  It means that we bet our lives on the belief that Christ lifted up has overcome every evil and that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, to fear.   That does not mean we will never suffer, but that God’s love, stronger than even death, is available to us, no matter what.  To believe that is to know that salvation changes everything.  This kind of faith is a grace and an act of the will.