4th Sunday of Lent 2018 – Year B

11 March 2018

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 said to a friend that the accident happened because God was punishing her for her past sins. She had committed adultery a few 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 sooner or later. This is totally the opposite to the God Jesus reveals to us.

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.

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 etc. 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. God wants us to be fully human too like Jesus.

In 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’. The greatness of his love is only matched by the greatness of his gift, Jesus. Life for John here in its biblical understanding is not primarily continued existence after this life. It is first and foremost life with someone, 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, irrespective of our response but he will not force it.

The gospel is telling us also that eternal life begins NOW. Eternal life is above all a relationship with our loving Father. Being a friend of his by doing his will is already the beginning of eternal life, the fullness of which we will experience when we die.

St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we are “God’s work of art” – what a magnificent statement. Do you, do we 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 this 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’ except God. Is not this good news? It is a totally free gift from 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. Our efforts to be loving, kind, virtuous etc are not a condition for entering heaven but a way of thanking God for his free gift. So we try to live a good life so as to thank, praise, and glorify God. To witness to people that all other ways apart from that lived and spoken to us by Jesus do not give lasting peace and joy. Also to show that the evil people do brings suffering and death into our world whilst the way of Jesus is truly life-giving.

“Lord Jesus, help us to believe that our God is a loving God who seeks only what is best for us. Amen”.

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA

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