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Fourth Sunday – Year B – Lent
Readings: II Chro 36:14-17, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21.
1/ First Reading: NAB 2 Chronicles 36:14 Likewise all the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the LORD’S temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. 15 Early and often did the LORD, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. 16 But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. 17 Then he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men in their own sanctuary building, sparing neither young man nor maiden, neither the aged nor the decrepit; he delivered all of them over into his grip. 19 They burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. 20 Those who escaped the sword he carried captive to Babylon, where they became his and his sons’ servants until the kingdom of the Persians came to power. 21 All this was to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah: “Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.” 22 In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: 23 “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!'”
2/ Second Reading: NAB Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so no one may boast. 10 For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.
3/ Gospel: NAB John 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. 21 But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
I. THEME: God’s love saves people.
People used to put out this question when they have to face catastrophes: “Why did the good Lord let such catastrophe happen to humankind?” If they can’t find a proper answer for this question, they shall stop to believe in God due to two following reasons: either God has no power to prevent it to happen or He has no compassion for human beings.
Today readings help to provide us a proper answer for that question. In the first reading, the author of the Second Chronicles briefly reported God’s way of educating human beings. In this way, punishment is only the last step to help people to recognize their sins and to protect them from the everlasting punishment. In the second reading, St. Paul confirmed that God shows His compassion for people through Christ’s event. God sacrificed His Only Son for us so that we can inherit the eternal life. In the Gospel, Jesus clearly declared that God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son. His purpose is not to condemn the world, but through His Son, the world is redeemed and inherited the eternal life.
1/ Reading I: The progress in God’s way of educating His people
1.1/ God educated and warned people: He taught people through their leaders, and He gave the Ten Commandments to people through Moses; but people ignored His teachings and many times violated His commandments. The author briefly described all sins of people as follows: “Likewise all the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.”
When Moses gave the law to people, he already let them know all the good results shall benefit them if they observe God’s law; and he also warned them all the bad results shall happen if they violate His law. God didn’t punish people the first time when they sinned; but out of His love, He constantly sent His prophets to remind people of their sins and to call them to repent. Instead of listening and doing what the prophets warned them, “they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the Lord against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy.”
1.2/ God punished people as He warned them through the prophets: Since they didn’t pay attention to His warnings, He must punish them as He foretold. The punishment which God often used is to stop protecting them. When God did that, their enemies shall devour them without mercy. In today passage, the author reported what happened to the Israelites and the Southern Kingdom in 587 B.C.: “Then he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men in their own sanctuary building, sparing neither young man nor maiden, neither the aged nor the decrepit; he delivered all of them over into his grip.They burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects.Those who escaped the sword he carried captive to Babylon, where they became his and his sons’ servants until the kingdom of the Persians came to power.All this was to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah: “Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.””
God’s purpose of punishment is to help people to recognize their sins so that they can repent and come back to Him for blessings and protection; not to destroy them out of His anger. If God didn’t punish, all people will die in their sins. When people were punished, a remnant from them shall recognize their sins and begin a journey to come back in order to receive His forgiveness and protection. Therefore, punishment is necessary for repentance and to prevent people from a more dangerous punishment, that is, the everlasting separation from Him.
1.3/ After God punished, He had compassion on them: God had mercy on people because He is their Father, and didn’t want them to be lost for ever. When people recognized their sins and sincerely repented, God forgave their sins and liberated people from their punishment. He returned to them all what they had lost: their country, the temple, His promises with their forefathers to protect them.
God completely has dominion over all nations of the world, not only Israel. This was shown through the facts that He used the Babylonian king and his armies as His stick to whip the Israelites. After finishing, God broke His stick and gave the Chaldeans empire into the hand of Cyrus, the Persian king. It was Cyrus who recognized God’s power and obeyed God to set the Israelites free from their exile to come back to their country, so that they could re-establish their nation and rebuild the temple. God foretold all these things through Jeremiah’s prophecy, so that when all these shall happen, the Israelites know it isn’t accidental, it was planned in advance by God so that they shall believe in Him.
2/ Reading II: God showed His mercy for us through Jesus Christ.
2.1/God showed His love for us through Christ: St. Paul believed that God fulfilled all of His promises with people through Christ, by listing out some of them.
(1) Christ came to reconcile people with God: Sins separated people from God. Christ came to destroy sins and to bring people back to God. Christ also invited people to repent so that he can take their sins away and help them to reconnect their relationship with God.
(2) Christ recovered human position and dignity: St Paul said, “because of the great love He had for us.” Sins take away all human priviledges which they should have as God’s children. Christ came to recover people’s position and priviledges as God’s children. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a clear example of this point.
(3) Besides Christ’s liberation of human beings from sins, he also sanctifies people with his grace and helps them to become holy.
(4) Christ saves people from death and helps them to receive the eternal life. Through Christ, people can achieve their ultimate goal which God has destined for them.
2.2/ People are saved completely by God’s grace: People can do nothing to receive their salvation because all of them sinned; the result of sin is death. The reason why people aren’t dead is completely by God’s love for them. He gave His Only Son to die in the place of the people. What God desires for people is that they should believe in Christ, and by this faith, people shall receive their salvation. St. Paul advised people with these words: “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 are God’s handiwork: St. Paul concluded: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”
When a child is born, his parents want him to be a good person and expect him to fulfill many expectations which they have for him. To help their child to reach them, they are ready to sacrifice all things that they have. Similarly, when God let people exist in this world, He wants them to have eternal happiness with Him. To help people to reach this goal, He is ready to sacrifice all, even His Only Son must go through his Passion and Death.
3/ Gospel: God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son.
3.1/ People are saved by Christ’s Passion and Death: Jesus used the event of “the Bronze Serpent” which happened to the Israelites in the desert (Num 21:4-9), to explain his coming death on the cross. One can see many similarities between the two events.
(1) As the snakes’ poison caused the Israelites to die, the poison of sins also lead people to death. As Moses raised the bronze serpent in the desert to heal the Israelites, Christ must also be raised high on the cross to save people from death.
(2) The condition to be healed from the snakes’ poison was to look upon the bronze serpent in the desert; the condition to have the eternal life is to look upon the cross and to believe Christ as the Savior. When looking upon the cross, people can understand God’s immense love for them. When He gave His Only Son, He gave Himself for human beings, as Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
3.2/ God doesn’t condemn the world, people condemn themselves: Love has no place for condemnation and verdict. The purpose of God’s sending of His Son is to redeem people’s sins and to die for them: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” People condemn themselves when they reject God’s love for them through Christ, as Jesus said: “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
3.3/ The verdict for people who refused to believe in Christ: “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.”
(1) Light and darkness: Light is Christ himself, he is God’s salvation. When Christ comes, he urges people to make the decision: to believe or to reject him. The darkness is sin, resulted from Satan’s temptation. People have freedom to make a decision; they can choose God or Satan, to step out of darkness and enter into light. When they make a decision, they have to accept the result of their decision. Choosing light shall lead people to salvation; choosing darkness shall lead people to everlasting death. People condemn themselves by stubbornly staying in the darkness.
(2) According to John, God doesn’t need to judge; people judge themselves. People don’t need to wait for the Last Judgment Day, since at the moment when they chose to deny Christ, they condemned themselves. The future eschatology completely depends on the present eschatology.
Those who did evil things prefer to stay in the darkness because they are afraid that their deeds may be displayed. We can see this tendency in the real life, most of crimes happened at night or in deserted places, as the author said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.” In opposition, those who did good things prefer to stay in the light to be shone and to avoid dangers of darkness: “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– The progress of human education must help us to recognize the progress of God’s education. Punishment is only the last step in this educational progress. Even in punishment, God’s love is still revealed. Without punishment, people shall not recognize their sins.
– We need to see the overview of God’s plan of salvation before we can criticize His ways. If we only pay attention to one particular event, we shall easily lose our faith in Him.