FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR B
2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23
By Fr. Euly Belizar, Jr.
As a boy I once broke a house rule. I went with a group of friends to swim in a river without asking my parents’ permission. My father told me not to eat at the family table together with the rest but at a small table near the kitchen. I felt like an exile. But I understood and accepted what my father was trying to teach me: That there are consequences to wrongdoing.
The second book of the Chronicles, our first reading, tells us how Israel learned the hard way that its huge pile of unfaithfulness (“practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple”) also had consequences. It became a weak nation, easily subdued and defeated by its enemies, such as the Chaldeans and, later, the Persians under King Cyrus. Israel was exiled. Although the book of Chronicles sees this exile as a deserved punishment, it also sees it as a form of sabbath, a time of rest and self-examination. For us Christians this corresponds to the time of Lent; hence, the choice of this reading for the fourth sunday of Lent. We realize that God is really the ultimate director of history. Israel’s deserved punishment could be, more deeply, seen as an act of God’s mercy. For instance, our reading shows us how it is God who prompts King Cyrus to allow Israel to eventually return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and offer God fitting worship. For Christians the exile points to the Crucifixion which leads ultimately to the Resurrection by which we are saved.
The second reading (Paul’s letter to the Ephesians) gives us the Christian view of how this mercy is related to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. “God is rich in mercy; because of his great love for us he brought us to live with Christ when we were dead in sin. By this favor you were saved.” Paul insists that we can do no deed to deserve salvation. It is totally God’s favor. “It is owing to this favor that salvation is yours through faith. This is not your doing; it is God’s gift…so let no one pride himself on it…”
The Gospel tells us how this gift comes to us through Jesus Christ. It is through his being lifted up on the Cross. This lifting up does not only mean his passion and death; it also refers to his being lifted up through his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. I once told a receptionist that I just needed a room even without any free meal (I wanted to eat outside). She said: “Sorry. Breakfast is part of the whole package.” In somewhat a similar way the “lifting up” of Jesus also means the ‘whole package’ of what we call the Paschal Mystery: not only the crucifixion and death but also his rising and ascending. We could scratch our heads eternally trying to understand the Cross. We might still fail to find any humanly understandable reason. But there is something simple yet profound in the answer to why a father or mother could be awake most nights just to care for a baby. Why take so much sacrifice, we ask. John proposes an answer: Love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that everyone who believes in him may not perish but might have eternal life…”