Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai- God so love the world!
Fr. Paul Oredipe: God is Rich in Mercy
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:
God so love the world!
“Rejoice, Jerusalem … Be joyful, all who love her!” (Entrance Antiphon – Is 66, 10). Today is fourth Sunday of Lent called “Laetare” Sunday. This Sunday is marked by “a little relaxation from the penitential character of the Lenten season.” Today, the Holy Mother Church exhorts us to be joyful because of love. So we are called to celebrate love. God’s love is beautifully captured in today’s gospel reading; John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. This part of the bible is the most quoted amongst Christians. It summarizes the whole scriptures and gives us the most beautiful definition of Christ’s coming, passion, death and resurrection. God manifested this love in varied ways in salvation history.
Firstly, God manifested his love when they defiled the Temple. The first reading tells us that the priests and the people defiled the Temple of the Lord and so they were punished with deportation. They were taking from their own land into exile in Babylonia as punishment for disobedience and unfaithfulness. The figures of the priest and the people defiling the Temple shows what the bible says in Rom3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Thus, often times what we suffer are consequences of our sins. Gal 6:7 says “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that he will also reap.” Col. 3:25 says “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
However, while in exile God manifested his mercy and compassion and the remnant of Judah returned home and start the building of the Temple afresh. Beloved, the nature of God is the nature of love. Because of love he restored the people back to their sweet home and once again they could rejoice. Amidst this joy they sang to the Lord and made vows to him saying “O let my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not.” (Today’s Psalm). Beloved, we often resolve not to sin again especially when we are pardoned for our sins. Today’s psalm wants us to understand that such resolves are deep commitment to God’s excess love.
Secondly, God manifested his love when they insulted him and his prophets: Jesus says in the Gospel; John 3:14-15 “ Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” This statement refers to what happened to the Israelite in the wilderness (Numb.21:4-9). They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses and God punished them with poisonous serpents. Impatience can cause us a lot. Impatience can cause wise people to do foolish things. Impatience and superficiality are the psychic diseases of this age. Many are paying daily for their impatience. Nevertheless, God expressed love and saved them through the bronze serpent. Beloved, we must not take God’s love for granted. We must not take the sacraments of reconciliation for granted. We must not take his priests for granted. Don’t insult them for it is a punishable offence by God. We incur curse upon ourselves when we mock them. Thus, let us learn to be patient with one another. Let us learn to be patient with God irrespective of our situation at the appointed time God will answer us.
Thirdly, God manifested his love in lifting up Jesus on the cross. God lifted up Jesus on the cross so that we might be lifted up. The gospel says in John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Three times that John used this phrase of Jesus he was referring to the cross. In John 8:28 Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” In John 12:32: Jesus said “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Lastly, in John 12:34, the crowd asked Jesus saying; how can you say “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Beloved, Jesus must be lifted up for us to be lifted up (Heb9:22). God gave his only begotten Son as a ransom for salvation. No other love is more than this. Jesus himself says no greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
The Son of man that is lifted up is the supernatural remedy for our sins. This may not make sense to man. In fact during the curse (poisonous snake) no human remedy could help them. The bronze snake was not a human remedy but a supernatural remedy. The idea came from God not man or science. Thus, the cross is God’s supernatural remedy for sinners. 1 Cor. 1:18 says “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Lastly, God manifested his love for us in his mercies. The second reading today says that 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 and it is through grace that we have been saved. Rom.5:8 puts it this way “God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Beloved, God’s mercy is bigger than our mistakes. In his generous mercy, God has made opened salvation for all. He says “Whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” You may be a notorious sinner like Paul and the tax-collector. God says whoever believes. As soon as the thief on the cross believed he got his salvation. Thus, He says in John 6:37 “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Go to Jesus and be saved!
Fr. Paul Oredipe:
God is Rich in Mercy
Today, the 4th Sunday of Lent, is LAETARE Sunday. The Entrance Antiphon, taken from Isaiah 66:10-11, says: “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts.”
It is a Sunday of rejoicing because it recalls to us that we are God’s works of art, created by His grace, not by our personal efforts. Today the Church invites us to reflect on God’s love for the world and to be joyful because of it. Today, we are invited to say yes to God’s love. If God is greedy for anything, it is for people’s acceptance of His love. There is a divine hunger for human love – that is why God sent His only Son. So there is a human hunger for divine love – that is why God sent His Son. In the person of Jesus, two hunters meet, and two hungers are satisfied. It is sometimes hard to believe that God loves even me, but I believe it because I know that God’s love is unconditionally; no ifs, no buts. Then we can love God back and enter into a love relationship with God.
In the Second Reading, Saint Paul says, “God is rich in mercy.” Think about that: God is rich in His mercy. He is full of mercy, overflowing with mercy the way that the wealthiest people overflow with money. He is ready to forgive in the blink of an eye. He wants to forgive much more than we can possibly imagine.
In a word, our good works are a response to God’s love, not the cause of it. The truth is that we are worthwhile in God’s sight, not because of what we accomplish but because He loves us and has created us in His own image and because Jesus died for us. God loves us with that much love. He is rich in His mercy. We never deserve it, but He gives it to us.
Saint Paul says today, “This is not your own doing, it is God’s gift; neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished, so let no one pride himself on it.” When the conscience is weighed down by a sin, or when we see the hopelessness and corruption of this world, we can look to Jesus on the cross. When poisonous serpents in the desert had bitten Moses’ people, he set up a bronze serpent on a pole, and all who looked at it were healed. Jesus on the cross is like that: when we see what He did for us, and believe in Him and turn to Him in repentance, we can be saved.
It is not by any deed of ours that we are saved. God grants us His grace because of His mercy. We have only the certitude of faith, and that is enough for us. God’s grace is freely given, without reserve. Grace is not something which is earned. The individual can do nothing to win God’s favor. Christ has done that for us, and He did that perfectly.
So, when we celebrate the mystery of faith, we celebrate what God does for us. God’s grace is free, unbound. His ways are not our ways. So seek the Lord while He is found, and greet your God with praise. By good deeds, we simply respond to God’s mercy and love for us.
Our Lenten practices, sacrifices and penance, to be useful and meritorious, must be done faithfully as our sharing in Jesus’ own supreme sacrifice, for we wretched sinners, left to our own, could not make any meaningful sacrifice that could affect something as far as our redemption is concerned.
Also, our repentance of sins in itself is equally not something that we could independently do to merit our salvation. To start with, we could not even be able to repent of our sins where it is not for the grace merited for us by the passion and death of Jesus Christ.
The lessons today, as we listen to them carefully, instruct us in a very helpful way about sin, about healing and forgiveness and especially, about how God is always waiting to be gracious to us, to forgive us, to heal us. It is not that God stands before us and condemns us. No, it is that light has come into the world. Jesus is the light that has come into the world, but people love darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
And yet, even as we make real the possibilities of sin and the consequences of sin, we must also reflect today on how God is always waiting to be gracious to us. Those are words proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah, but they are reinforced today in the first lesson when, after the devastation and failure that happened because of the people’s rejection of God’s ways, God still reached out in love.
Babylon was famed in the ancient world for its beautiful hanging gardens, but to the Israelites it was a miserable place of separation from their homeland. So began the Exile, which gave rise to the responsorial psalm set with today’s readings at Mass: “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Zion.” This psalm has inspired musicians, both old and new, with its sense of longing and nostalgia to be home.
The writer of the second book of Chronicles, reflecting on the causes of this miserable exile, criticized the Israelites for “adding infidelity to infidelity, copying all the shameful practices of the nations and defiling the Temple that the Lord has consecrated for himself in Jerusalem.” The Jewish people had practiced infidelity after infidelity, abomination after abomination. The prophets had been persecuted and, even worse, ignored.
Finally, God permitted a foreign people to conquer Judah, sack Jerusalem, destroy the Temple and put the majority of the people into slavery in Babylon. This was in 588 B.C. At the time, the Israelites simply bemoaned their fate. Later, the theologians and historians came to see the Exile as something that the People of God had brought on themselves by their very abandonment of God. As a proverb says: “God never punishes people for their sins. It is the sins that punish them.”
At the end of that first reading, we hear how God sent someone to free the people, to let them go, to restore them to their place in the chosen land, the holy land – the place given them by God.
And, in the letter of Paul to the Church at Ephesus, especially, we are reminded as Paul says; “God is rich in Mercy.” God reveals immense love and gives us life with Christ after being dead through our sins. He goes on to tell us: “By the grace of God, you are healed through faith and this does not come from you but it is God’s gift.” It is not the result of your works, so you are not to feel proud. What we are is God’s handiwork, as Paul says, created in Jesus to carry out the works produced by God in Jesus.
And so God is inviting us; God’s mercy is ready to be poured forth upon us. God is asking us to be open about our sinfulness, to acknowledge it, to be ready for God to heal us. God will heal us. God will totally forgive us and we will be able to live that new life that Jesus promises in the Gospel. “God so loved the world that God sent Jesus, God’s son, into this world in order to save it, to heal it, to bring it life, to bring it peace.”
By acknowledging our sinfulness, asking God forgiveness and healing, we will experience that power of Jesus alive in us, enabling us to carry out the good works that God has called us to do, especially the good work of bringing reconciliation and peace within all our relationships and within our world.
Turning to the Gospel, we have moved from the descriptive writing of Saint Mark to the reflection of Saint John. Nicodemus, a secret follower of the Lord, is striving to understand the teachings of Jesus. Our Lord uses the imagery of light and darkness. Humanity lives in the darkness of sin, while God lives in unapproachable light. People prefer the darkness of sin and choose it. Once again, our tendency towards sin is mentioned. People will try to hide from the light of Christ in order to avoid being exposed to others or to themselves, for when the light shines on us, our need to change and be saved is clearly revealed and is uncomfortable, even painful.
Our Lord’s understanding of His mission is that He is here to beam the searing light of truth on the darkest and most unpleasant areas of our lives, exposing our wretchedness and sin; yet He does this only out of love and a desire to rescue us, to save us, to heal us, to illuminate us. He also provides the guiding light to show us the way to the Father.
God’s mercy is the greatest expression of His love because it shows the total gratuitousness of God’s love towards the sinner, whereby instead of punishing him He forgives him and gives him life. The words “God, who is rich in mercy” have great theological and spiritual depth. They are a beautiful summary of the Bible, a beautiful illustration of how the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together. The words, “God, who is rich in mercy”, are a kind of summary of all Saint Paul’s teaching about God’s approach to people who are under the rule of sin, who are “by nature children of wrath”.
In the New Testament also there are many references to God’s mercy, sometimes very touching ones, like the parable of the prodigal son (already mentioned above cf. Lk 15: 32); others take a more dramatic form, for example, Christ’s sacrifice, the supreme expression of the love of God, which is stronger than death and sin. “The ‘Cross of Christ’, on which the Son, consubstantial with the Father, ‘renders full justice to God’, is also ‘a radical revelation of mercy’, or rather of the love that goes against what constitutes the very root of evil in the history of man: against sin and death” (“ibid.”, 8).
Many of us have experienced a moment in our lives when we have finally admitted that something is seriously wrong. Having taken stock of the situation we have faced up to it. This has proved the opening of a door to finding help, often from others.
Today’s readings encourage us to do the same spiritually. They leave us in no doubt that sin separates us from God, and that we need His intervention to pull us out from the pit and restore us to friendship with Himself.
Keeping these all in mind, we can understand the significance of the Gospel proclamation. God has sent His Son who will be raised up so that those who look upon Him with faith may have eternal life. The sign of their faith is that they will do their deeds in the light. The cross is the sign of contradiction. Christ, put to death, is in control of the universe. What appears as defeat is really victory because the sacrifice of Christ initiates the reign of God. At His weakest, Jesus is the strongest. God is in control. He turns defeat into victory for those with a living faith in Him.
This is important for us to recognize in our own struggles in life. When in our weakness, we are united to Christ’s cross, we are at our strongest. When we are convinced that we can’t handle things by ourselves, but need God’s help, we are at our strongest because we now recognize our need for Him in our lives. When we put all in His hands and act according to our consciences, even though this may be difficult and painful, then in our weakness we are strong. God is in control. We have to tell ourselves that over and over. If only we would allow Him to be our strength, then nothing can defeat us. Not even the worse cross we could imagine can destroy His love in our lives.
The solution to our human predicament lies not in our finite and feeble resources, but in the unsearchable depths of God, His love and mercy. There is no dark corner into which the light of Christ cannot reach. So we pause for honest reflection, and rejoice that Christ, our Light, is near at hand. For if Christ has suffered and died to save us from our sins, it would amount to refusal of His salvation if we fail to avail ourselves of His grace to repent of our sins and deeds of darkness.
So on this mid-Lent Sunday we pause for reflection on what we truly are and who Christ truly is. We are sinners in need of grace. He is our Saviour. Thinking about what we truly are is a good thing to do psychologically, socially, physically and much more, spiritually because to be well-adjusted human beings we need to be open and honest with ourselves, aware of our strengths and weaknesses, candid and frank. If we have not already done so, resolving to make a good confession before Easter will bring us face to face with who we truly are, if you prepare properly. It will also become clear to us that we are in a state of exile and separation, we need the knowledge that sin has put us where we are.
Today we pray that we might trust in God to be strengthened and strong in our weakness.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen