• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

“God sent His Son so that the world might be saved through Him ...”

Entrance Antiphon: Is 66:10-11 — “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.”

First Reading: 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23 —"The wrath and the mercy of the Lord are revealed in the exile and liberation of His people.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6 — “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget You.”

Second Reading: Eph 2:4-10 — “Though dead in your transgressions, by grace you have been saved.”

Verse Before the Gospel: Jn 3:16 — “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might have eternal life.”

Gospel: Jn 3:14-21 — “God sent His Son so that the world might be saved through Him.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 121:3-4 — “To Jerusalem, that binds them together in unity, the tribes of the Lord go up to give Him praise.”

How many of you enjoy watching the History Channel on television? I think perhaps one of the reasons for that might be that it’s because in one session, those of you who watch get a summary view of a particular period in human history. Guess what? That’s what the First Reading does for us, today. The passage from the Book of Chronicles recounts the exile of God’s Chosen People in Babylon ... what led up to it and what ended it. It gives us a God’s-eye view of that crucial time in Israel’s history.

Today, on Laetare Sunday ... on Joyful Sunday ... we should rejoice because we’re at the midpoint of Lent. And the option once again is for the Priest is to wear rose vestments. I would also like to think that the joy you might be feeling today is more than relief that we are halfway to Easter. It’s more than the fact that we’ve lost an hour of sleep signaling the beginning of warmer, longer days. I believe the joy we feel should come, in part, from reflection on our history ... from our deliverance from exile by God’s overwhelming mercy and love ... mercy and love that was lavished on us in the gift of His Son.

So first, consider that we are saved from exile. Israel spent a half-century ... 50 years ... in Babylon before King Cyrus allowed them to return. Our Second Reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we were once dead in our sins. And I think, for people of faith, that the spiritual exile of sin is far worse than physical exile in a foreign country. Saint John’s Gospel compares this state to darkness. Jesus has brought us into the light and has given us eternal life. Like the bronze serpent, which saved those who gazed on it at the time of Moses, Jesus saves us from the darkness and brings us home. As we hear in Ephesians: “He raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens”(Eph 2:6).

And there is something else that we all have to realize ... and that’t the fact that we do not deserve any of this ... all of it is gift ... God’s gift ... and all of it all happens by God’s grace. And it is faith that makes this homecoming possible. “Everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life,” says Saint John. “By grace you have been saved through faith,” says Saint Paul. All the Israelites in the desert had to do was to look upon the bronze serpent. All we have to do is to accept the gift that God wants to give us. And consider the flip side as Saint John warns us in his Gospel that it might be possible that we might prefer the darkness to light. I hope you find that as incomprehensible as I do ... why would anyone want to make such a terrible choice?

Let’s face it. God’s love is extravagant. I don’t think there is anyone who can fathom the wonder of His love. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” says Saint John. Saint Paul tells the Ephesians and us that God is “rich in mercy,” that God has “great love” for us in showering on us “the immeasurable riches of His grace.” The epistle continues, “we are His handiwork.” Saint Paul uses the Greek word poiema here. It is the word from which we get the word “poem.” We are God’s creation ... we are God's work of art ... we are God’s poem. Think about it ... what a privilege! What a proof to us of God’s “kindness in Christ Jesus.”

Today, on this Laetare Sunday ... our response should simply be to rejoice. God has given us the gift of eternal life through the grace of faith and the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation. This is not our own doing … but only the gift of God’s love. God has called all those in RCIA to this same wonderful life. We should rejoice with them as they come nearer to the Easter Vigil. God has become a part of the history of our lives. We can put aside sin and condemnation and walk freely and joyfully in the light of Christ.

The Mass invites us to rejoice every time we come together to celebrate it. The Word of God we have heard today ... specifically tells us why we should rejoice. God loves us ... Jesus died for us ... our sins are forgiven ... our lives are changed. We should know that all of these things are true, but today, God is beating us over the head with it. We are already raised up and seated in the heavens. We are God’s work of art. My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us believe this with all our hearts ... and rejoice.

The Eucharist is the great gift of love. Jesus unites us with His sacrificial love ... He asks us to surrender ourselves in sacrificial love along with Him. Jesus gives Himself to us as food and drink to show how much He longs to be united with us ... and to give us the strength to surrender ourselves to Him ... to God. And to this invitation, remember what you say as you come forward to receive Him ... you say “Amen” ... in other words, “Yes, it’s true” ... “So Be It.” I pray your response is a joyful one as it is meant to be.

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