LOVE AND, WHATEVER YOU WANT, DO!
The fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday. “Laetare” in Latin means, “rejoice!” In the middle of the serious season of Lent, the Church invites us to rejoice: “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her” (Entrance Antiphon — Isaiah 66:10-11). This is precisely because of this Good News: God is love, and His love for us sinful humanity is constant, generous and self-sacrificing: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” (Jn 3:16).
The central theme of today’s readings is that our salvation is the free gift of a merciful God given to us through Jesus His, Son. The readings stress God’s mercy and compassion, the great love, kindness and grace extended to us in Christ. Today’s readings make us aware that we are still sinful humans, called to grow in faithfulness and love. As an act of love and gratitude to God Who is “rich in mercy”, and as an expression of our Faith, we are invited to share his sufferings by doing penance during Lent so that we may inherit our eternal salvation and the glory of his Resurrection in Heaven.
First reading, 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23: John the Evangelist says: "The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light." The first reading presents to us what seem to be the two sides of a coin. That is, the wrath and the mercy of God. These are revealed in both, the exile and liberation of his people. Three complaints were made against Israel and their leaders. These include: “That they were unfaithful; they defiled the temple; and, they laughed at the prophets.” This led to their deportation and exile. However, in his mercy, God decided to restore them at his own time. Today’s passage shows us how the people's infidelities caused them to lose the Temple and their homeland, and how God arranged, through the pagan king of Persia, to return them to their homeland and to help them rebuild His Temple there. This short, sad summary with a hopeful ending is told from the viewpoint of a conviction that right worship will restore a people.
It is interesting to note that only few of those granted freedom by king Cyrus took advantage of the opportunity to return home. The rest continued living in the land of exile. When God is ready to save us, we must respond positively to his offer of salvation both from physical and spiritual captivity. It is only through this that our joy will be complete.
In the book of Numbers chapter 21, the people of Israel offended God and attracted his wrath. They cried to the God of mercy who immediately came to their rescue. God asked Moses to mold a bronze serpent and hang up there so that anyone who is bitten by the destructive snake, and who would look up to the bronze serpent may not die – Numb 21:4-9. One thing was to have the bronze serpent hanging, another was for the bitten to lift up his/her eyes and gaze at it and live. God did offer them salvation, yet, a little was left in their hands to accomplish. It could be possible that there were many who still died in spite of the hanging serpent simply because they refused to look up.
Like the Israelite’s, we turned away from God and deserved to die. St Paul put it that we have all sinned – Rom. 3:23. And Isaiah 53 holds that we have all gone astray. God in his mercy also came to our rescue, this time, no longer the Mosaic snake but His only begotten Son. Today, Jesus likened His salvific mission to the lifted up serpent in the desert. Like the Israelites in the desert, we too must look up to see Jesus before we could be saved.
As we enter the last two weeks of Lent, the Church invites us to hope and to rejoice, as we reflect on God’s self-sacrificing love for us. He truly loves us, despite our being sinful and disobedient, that He is willing to suffer and die for us. This is more than enough reason to smile and rejoice every day. God loves us! So, if God loves us so, what should be our response? It should be to follow the most important command of Jesus at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This may not be very easy to achieve but we need to make serious efforts to avoid selfishness and ingratitude. It is said that God usually “gives and forgives”, man, on the other hand, usually “gets and forgets”!
Again, the bronze serpent was a sign, a resemblance, and a copy of the troubles the Israelites had. When they looked up, they saw the replica of their trouble – the snake, and that healed them. The son of Man is lifted up on the cross so that anyone who looks up to him may live. The mystery is that when we look up to the cross of Christ, we see also the resemblance of our troubles. The sick looks up and sees the bruised and wounded Jesus. The sinner looks up and sees the man who carried all of humanities sins. The abandoned looks up and see a man deserted by His close friends. The jobless looks up and sees a man who had no other job but wasted His life for others. The barren looks up and sees a man who, though an only Son of His mother and Father, gave up everything without any wife or children to grant these to many. What is your trouble? Look up to the cross. You would see the sign of your troubles. It is by His wounds that we have been healed (Is 53:3-5). We adore you Oh Christ and we worship you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
The bronze serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness points to the cross of Christ which defeats sin and death and obtains everlasting life for those who believe in Jesus Christ. The result of Jesus "being lifted up on the cross" and his rising from the dead, and his exaltation and ascension to the Father's right hand in heaven, is our "new birth in the Spirit" and adoption as sons and daughters of God. God not only frees us from our sins and pardons us; he also fills us with his own divine life through the gift and working of his Spirit who dwells within us.
As long as we do not obey the commandment of love, the world will continue to be in pain and trouble. As long as our selfishness and greed rule our lives, poverty and shortage of resources are here to stay. As a saying goes; “The world has enough for every man’s need, but not enough for every man’s greed.” The call and challenge for us, therefore, is to love in the manner that Jesus loved us.
Jesus shows us the paradox of love and judgment. We can love the darkness of sin and unbelief or we can love the light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness. If our love is guided by what is true and good and beautiful, then we will choose for God and love him above all else. What we love shows what we prefer. Do you love God above all else? Do you give him first place in your life, in your thoughts, decisions and actions?
Prayer - Lord Jesus Christ, your death brought life for us. May your love consume and transform my life that I may desire you above all else. Help me to love what you love, to desire what you desire, and to reject what you reject. Amen!!!