Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - March 14, 2021
Today, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church takes particular note of the fact that we have passed the half-way mark of our Lenten journey. The Entrance Antiphon begins with the exhortation to “Rejoice, Jerusalem!” and, together with the rose-colored vestments that may be used on this day, we enjoy a brief moment of refreshment and prepare to engage the remaining days of Lenten discipline. Lenten joy is entirely proper, as the first Preface for Lent reminds us, “By [God’s] gracious gift each year, the faithful await the sacred paschal feast with the joy of minds made pure.” We are to remain “eagerly intent on prayer and on the works of charity and participate in the mysteries by which we have been reborn.”
Our Lenten attitude then is both joyful and serious in the discipline. Each reading today takes the reality of human sinfulness seriously. Each Scripture passage proclaimed today reminds us that the world can all too often get caught up in darkness and sin and turn away from God. Each passage acknowledges God’s efforts to reach out, again and again, to draw the world to himself. Each passage notes that we cannot escape the sin and the darkness by ourselves and that our salvation comes to us through God’s grace - and ultimately in sending his own Son to us. The Son of God expressed the fullness of the Father’s love by accepting death on the cross, and the Father, in turn, glorified his Son by raising Him from the dead and making him the source of eternal life for all who believe.
Both the First Reading from the Second Book of Chronicles and the Responsorial Psalm 137 portray the serious and heartbreaking consequences of unfaithfulness to God and those whom God sends to call His people back. Chronicles recount the tragic loss of country, customs, language, rituals of religious observance, and the Temple. The Responsorial Psalm expresses the people's grief in their captivity as their captors demanded songs of joy and gladness. “Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you, not if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy.”
Even in this darkest of moments, God’s expansive love overcomes the rejection and the darkness and offers another opportunity for the people to turn back and renew fidelity to their covenant promises. God’s persistence in care and mercy, compassion, and expansive love are delivered through King Cyrus of Persia, who the Babylonians and then issues the decree that frees God’s people to return home to rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem and to restore their spiritual fortunes.
But what God has done in the past, not only through the Persian King but also through Moses, pales in comparison with what God does by sending his Son – not “to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Many generations before King Cyrus of Persia, God’s people had been saved when Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. Moses’ action looked forward to when the Son of Man would be lifted up on the cross and bring “eternal life” (salvation) to all who believe. Jesus tells Nicodemus and us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Jesus’ words also clarify that there are those who live in the light and those who prefer to live in the darkness. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that is true and that while there are many times when our deeds are good, there can be those times when we flirt with the darkness or live between the light and darkness, and there are even those times when we sin.
The Gospel of John repeatedly makes use of the metaphors of darkness and light to talk about sin and judgment and, more importantly, to invite us, by way of Jesus’ teaching, to live in the light, that is, to live in Christ. Those who know who they are in the light of Christ will more clearly desire that their identities will be shown in the works of light by which they live. The last sentence of the Second Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians reinforces the Gospel lesson: “For we are [God’s] handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”
Today, along with the Israelites newly freed by King Cyrus, with Nicodemus in the Gospel, and with the people of Ephesus, we are invited to see more clearly and live more intentionally in the light of Christ. Yes, we may well experience moments of darkness, but the good news is that God has raised up his Son as a new light to illuminate our hearts, to make us see things as God sees them, and to share God’s hope for humanity’s redemption.
In the remaining days of Lent, may our Lord strengthen us so that we might turn toward His light and keep our eyes fixed on His path – always trusting in the Father’s love.