March 15, 2015 | HNMWebmaster | Deacon Eddie, Discipleship, Faith, Grace, Healing, Homilies, Lent, Love, St. John

Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 15, 2015 – Year B

Readings: 2 Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon

Today is Laetare Sunday. This is a Latin word meaning “rejoice”. It’s the beginning of the introit for today’s Mass:

“Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning;…”

There are twenty-one days left until Easter, and Mother Church calls us all to be joyful. However, if we look only at the first reading and the Psalm, joy is not what comes to mind. Think about the first reading:

“Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects.”

or the Psalm:
“May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, …”

The first reading and the Psalm are referring to a dark time in Jewish history. The Jewish people were forcibly removed from their homeland and taken to Babylon where they remained for many years. This was a time of great sorrow for them, but they were eventually allowed to return. Even in their darkness, there was hope.

So what do we make of this selection from Scripture on a day that is supposed to be about Joy? I think that the answer is revealed when we consider the Old Testament and Psalm in light of the second reading and the Gospel, and as we approach the home stretch of Lent, they hold some important lessons for all of us.

First, the Babylonian exile should not have come as a surprise to the Jewish people. “Early and often did the LORD … send his messengers to them” but they didn’t listen.

We are not very good at listening either. Popes, priests and preachers of all denominations are constantly pointing out to us that our actions, as well as our inactions, have consequences. However, their words, like those of the prophets, are not heeded. When we sin, bad things happen. Lent is a call for each of us to practice virtue instead of vice.

The Gospel today is the end of an exchange between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus at night, seeking advice on how to enter the Kingdom of God, and he doesn’t really understand Jesus’ answer. The Pharisees believed that they could become righteous in the eyes of God by observing the Law of Moses. Jesus tries to tell him that he needs to be born of Spirit. The secret is not what Nicodemus does – it’s whether or not he truly is open to God through Jesus, the Son of Man.

It’s important for us to remember this, especially during Lent. When we pray, fast and give alms we are engaged in a spiritual workout. Just like athletes get stronger and faster when they practice their sport, we get spiritually stronger when we do our Lenten exercises. However, we are not making ourselves more worthy of God’s love.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds us:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”

We can’t earn salvation for ourselves. Jesus has already done it for us.

When the Israelites were bitten by serpents in the desert, they were healed by looking upon the bronze serpent placed on a pole by Moses. In a few minutes, when Father raises up the Son of Man, present in the bread and wine, look upon Him and be healed by your faith.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Deacon Eddie, I’m not worthy to to look at Jesus. I don’t deserve to be healed.” You know what, none of us are, but look anyway. Pope Francis reminds us that: “It is impossible for us to free ourselves from sin on our own.” We need the help of God. That is the joy that we are reminded of today. God loved us so much that he gave us his only Son, so that we can be healed if we believe in Him.

Lent is not about dotting all of the “I’s” and crossing all of the “T’s”. It’s about preparing our hearts to receive what is being handed to us. Not because we have earned it, but because we are loved.