Homily—March 10 & 11, 2018 Fourth Sunday of Lent
How about those Cascade Cougars Basketball Teams! A champion girls’ team and a champion boys’ team the same year!! I watched their last game on television.
I received a text from my nephew’s wife this week. They have three girls and the youngest is about 3 ½ . Last weekend they were staying in a hotel and Renee woke up in the middle of the night, very upset and crying and yelling out repeatedly “I want Jesus! I want Jesus!” Scott and Elizabeth frantically tried to calm her down so she wouldn’t wake anyone else...took her to the bathroom…got her water…tried to get her a snack only to realize..she really wanted “Cheez-its!
Hopefully one day she will want Jesus more than cheez-its. I can see that thinking your young child is saying I want Jesus in the middle of the night would certainly get your attention. This is a story they will not easily forget.
The story we do not want to forget is how God loves us despite our sins and failures. The first reading shows us that in spite of God’s ongoing love, the people’s sinful practices showed themselves for what they were: A pattern of self-destruction that made them indefensible against their enemies. No matter how many messengers God sent, the people went their own way until their enemies conquered, pillaged and exiled them. But even then, the God whose patience knows no bounds never forgot them.
Paul repeats this message in his letter to the Ephesians by writing that God, because of his mercy and great love, brought us to life with Christ—we have been saved by grace through faith. Underlying both the emotion and the action is God’s deliberate purpose, an unrelenting desire to bring all into union with Christ.
Today’s Gospel features a key statement by Jesus that can be interpreted in very diverse and even mutually exclusive ways. It is John 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.” There are interpretations of this that suggest Jesus’ mission was to atone to God for human sin by dying a painful death. That point of view believes that according to justice, God had to exact a fitting punishment for sin, but that in mercy God sent the Son as the only one who could adequately pay the price. This allows people to see God as both just and merciful and says that anyone who believes in Jesus can receive the benefit of his sacrifice.
This Sunday’s readings offer an alternative interpretation of the statement by showing both its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures and one expression in Ephesians of Paul’s reflections on its theme. The readings present an image of God who is relentless in reaching out to lost humanity. This alternative is beautifully articulated in Eucharistic Prayer IV which could have been written with these readings in mind. When this Eucharistic Prayer is translated into a dialogue instead of a proclamation, it sounds like this: “You formed us in your own image … When through disobedience we lost your friendship, you did not abandon us … but came in mercy … so that we who seek you might find you. Time and again you offered us covenants … and prophets … and taught us to hope for salvation.”
When Jesus speaks of his being lifted up as our salvation, as a light and a path to life, we begin to realize that he is talking about the cross as the ultimate revelation of love. Instead of compensating to God for human sin, Jesus reveals God’s self-offering to humanity, God’s unceasing love. No matter what we do to reject that love, God continually offers us eternal life. All we have to do is accept it.
On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are invited to look at our prayer, our belief and our life and to ask ourselves: How does our prayer form our belief? What image of God is in our heart when we hear that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son? And perhaps most importantly how is our prayer and our image of God made manifest in our daily interactions?
Jesus tells Nicodemus and us that this is the time for decision. Are we going to live according to the light that came into the world or stay in the darkness and shadows of being noncommittal? Can we look with open eyes at the reality of our personal sin and the evil of the world around us? Can we challenge evil and darkness we see around us rather than being complacent and passive? We can do this, for we are God’s handiwork “created to rejoice in Christ Jesus and to lead the life of good deeds.” Sr. Mary McGlone wrote most of this message in Celebration Publications.
Evangelist Billy Graham recently died. He had a special friendship with St. Pope John Paul II. He taught this prayer, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In your name. Amen.
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