4th Sunday of Lent 2012

18 March 2012

2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-21
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 3:14-21

The husband of a certain woman was killed unexpectedly in a car crash and she told her friend that the accident happened because God was punishing her for her past sins. She had committed adultery a number of times and as a result of one affair, she had to have an abortion. Now she was convinced that she was paying for all this.  Sad to say, but there are very many people who are convinced that God punishes them for their past failings. They see God as a harsh kind of judge who condemns them if they do wrong and makes them pay for this sooner or later.

Recently a friend of mine, a very committed Christian said to me that he found it very hard to please God always and felt he would be judged severely at the end of his life for failing to please a demanding God.  Worse still, I knew a bishop who really tried hard to do God’s will and was a very good man. In his later years he spent most of his time praying so that he would escape a harsh final judgement from God.

I don’t know if these people really believed today’s gospel as John wrote it and meant it to be accepted.  The great good news of today’s gospel is very simply that God loves us passionately, unconditionally and completely. The gospel spells out as clearly as possible that God cannot but love us. In verse 17 we read ‘that God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that through him the world might be saved’. So the primary purpose for which Jesus came was not to condemn but to save.  Sometimes the word ‘save’ may not mean that much to us but an equally acceptable translation is the word ‘free’ or ‘liberate’. God through Jesus wishes to liberate us on all levels of our being: mental, physical, psychological, spiritual, emotional. He wants us to be free us of unnecessary fears and anxieties, scruples etc. so as to be free to love God and others. The reason why I continue to be a Christian is precisely for that reason.  I have experienced a great amount of freedom in my life through my relationship with Jesus and his  life-giving words. It is not just for some holy reason only. God wants us to be fully human too like Jesus.

In the verse before, verse 16, we read ‘Yes, God loved the world so much that that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not be lost but may have eternal life.’ Life for John here in its biblical understanding is not continued existence after this life, nor even what is termed the quality of life. It is first and foremost ‘life with someone’, life in relation to the other, life in relation to God, to those whom we love and to those who love us. Eternal life is the preservation of these relationships intact even through death. For John ‘to be lost’ is to die, to cease to be. To cease having relationships with all those we would want to love. Thus, to save the world is to deliver from the power of death all who are subject to it, not preventing them from dying but by granting them eternal life.

So God cannot stop loving us, even when we are sinning. We cannot lose God’s friendship, his love from God’s side but we can choose ourselves to lose it by our evil acts and behaviour, what John calls the darkness. So God loves us totally and his love for us is not based on the attractiveness of the recipient nor on the return involved. God loves us now, always, totally. Full stop.

So St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we are “God’s work of art” – what a magnificent statement. Do you, do I consider ourselves as a work of art, something of incredible beauty? Well, God does. If we could only accept this about ourselves and others what a wonderful world we would have. St Paul goes on to say in today’s second reading that ‘it is by grace (that is God’s loving choice of us) that we have been saved, through faith, not by anything of your own, but a gift from God, not by anything you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. That is except God.

Is there nothing left for us to do?  Surely. We don’t try to be virtuous or good or holy or whatever, to earn or gain God’s love. It is already freely given, never to be taken back for whatever reason. Jesus lifted high on the cross is the absolute proof of that. So we try to live a good life so as to thank, praise, and glorify God. To witness to people that all others ways apart from that lived and spoken to us by Jesus do not give lasting peace and joy.  To show that the evil that people do under the cover of darkness brings suffering and death into our world whilst the way of Jesus is truly, life-giving and joyfilled.   Since we cannot do this by our own will power let us do it by the power of the Spirit.

“Lord Jesus, may we ask very often for the gift of your Spirit to really accept the great good news of today’s gospel and believe and witness to it that others too may believe and live by it too. Amen”

Fr Jim Kirstein SMA