4th Sunday of Lent – Laetare Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord (John 3:14-21)

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful, all you who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.”

Lent may be a penitential season but that does not mean it is all doom and gloom.  As Jesus said, “When you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do” (Matt 6:16).  Today’s Readings are full of hope and joy.

The Old Testament Reading (2 Chronicles 36:14-23) is the astounding message to the exiles in Babylon that the new king, Cyrus, has announced that after 70 years in exile the Jews may return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

God’s work of art

The Second Reading, Ephesians 2:4-10, continues the saving power of God’s love.  “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.”  Then Paul continues with one of my favourite lines in the bible: “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant it to be.”   Various philosophers have given us their take on the meaning of life but I doubt if anyone has surpassed Paul’s answer that we are God’s work of art.

Years ago, somebody gave me a very simple but beautiful black and white poster.  It showed a little boy, maybe four years old, looking out at you, very serious and very happy.  Underneath was his message.  “I know that I am somebody, ‘cos God don’t make no junk.”

He must have heard Paul’s message about being God’s work of art!   Of course, any work of art can be spoiled or even destroyed, which leads us to the Gospel of the day (John 3:14-21).

Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who came to him by night.  He explains that he is offering a new life, a spiritual rebirth, if we allow ourselves to be lifted up to the values that he called the kingdom of God: a kingdom of life and light, of truth and peace, of mercy and love.  To believe is more than the mental acceptance of doctrines.  The Latin word credo literally means I give my heart, I am committed.

Jesus recalled the strange story of Moses lifting up a bronze serpent in front of people who had been poisoned by snakebites.  Snakes were revered as a symbol of new life because they shuffle off their exterior skin to expose a brand new one.  Until recent times, a snake curled around a drinking vessel was the sign outside a pharmacy.  Jesus would be lifted up on the cross and in his resurrection, shuffling off this mortal coil to reveal his resurrection.

God loved the world

The Gospel then gives us this beautiful thought.  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.  For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.”

Does this mean that nobody will ever be condemned, that there is no hell?  We can be sure that the merciful God will do His part. “No one who believes in him will be condemned.”   However, we must do our part by following the light of Jesus.  “Whoever refuses to believe is condemned already because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.”   People condemn themselves by refusing to follow the light of Christ.  “Though the light has come into the world, people have shown they prefer darkness to light because their deeds were evil.  Indeed, everyone who does wrong hates the light and avoids it for fear his actions should be exposed.”  People who live evil lives hate the light of goodness. Condemnation is self-inflicted.

 

Today’s Readings are full of light and hope.  The Letters of Pope Francis constantly celebrate the joy of believing the Good News.  You are God’s work of art.

“God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son;

Everyone who believes in him has eternal life

Glory and praise to you, O Christ!

Prayer Space, News