God's Word on Sunday: A time of reckoning is time for renewal

  • March 8, 2024

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 10 (2 Chronicles 36:14-17a, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)

Why had God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and the people to be driven into exile? The author of Chronicles was attempting to make sense of the devastation and ruin that had befallen his land and people. There was more than enough blame to go around. Both the priests and the people had fallen into corruption and pollution of the worst sort. In the eyes of the author, things like this do not just happen — there is always a cause, and most of the time the cause is human in origin.

Israel had fallen into idolatry; Israel had forgotten her first love. Corruption had taken hold in all spheres of human activity — religious, political and economic. God had tried repeatedly to reach the minds and hearts of the people. He sent prophets and messengers, but they had all been despised and rejected. Finally, divine patience and forbearance reached the breaking point. According to the author’s lights, God brought the Babylonians to the gates of Jerusalem and allowed them to take and ravage the city.

We might argue whether this was the case, but one thing is clear. It was through that traumatic experience that the Israelites found themselves and their God again. They had been stripped of all that was false and not of God and were brought face to face with what they had become. The result was a renewed and energized people who were ready for the journey back to Judea when Cyrus released them.

In many respects, the experience of stripping and humiliation can be quite healing. The Church is experiencing this now and hopefully we too will find our way again. Nations, institutions, schools and a whole range of human activities are facing similar reckonings. This is not a time to despair — it is an opportunity for rebirth and renewal.

The psalmist expressed great grief over the loss of his homeland. The people of God were being mocked by their tormentors and goaded into singing songs of Zion. His fervent prayer was to keep the memory of their homeland and their temple alive. Forgetting was not an option, for that would extinguish the people and their hopes and dreams. There are many dispossessed peoples today who yearn for their homeland and traditions of their ancestors — may God grant them liberation and new life.

All human life is precious to God, for God is rich in mercy. God showed great love by loving humanity as they were. God made them alive in Christ and continues to do so. This is nothing that we deserve or have earned but is a gift of mercy and grace. We can hope that through this experience that we too can learn the meaning of mercy.

John recalled the bronze serpent that had been the instrument of healing for the Israelites during their journey through the wilderness. They had murmured and complained against God and Moses, so God sent the serpents as an incentive to mend their ways. They asked Moses to intercede for them, but God refused to take away the serpents. In a sense, they created the serpents through their extreme negative energies. He offered instead the bronze serpent on the pole. When one was bitten, it was enough to gaze upon the bronze serpent to be healed. This represented taking their focus off of self and directing it upwards towards God.

God’s intent is always the healing and redemption of humanity — that was the sole reason for sending the Son into the world. It was an act of love and mercy, not restoring God’s sullied honour or soothing God’s wrath. The evangelist was mystified that many people rejected and even hated the light that was offered. God sends the divine light into the world to save, not condemn. But many prefer the cloak of darkness, both then and now. They feel threatened by the light — vulnerable and terrified that their deeds will be unmasked.

Darkness is the realm of greed, selfishness, hatred, divisiveness, unkindness, bigotry and violence. Light is offered in many guises, for the light is the same regardless of labels. In our time, the world will be divided by those who reach out and embrace the light and those who refuse to do so. Why would anyone prefer darkness?