4th Sunday of Lent B 2012
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Laetare Sunday--laetare is Latin for "joy." In a season of fasting, prayer, and abstinence, it's easy to forget that one of the liturgical prayers for Lent thanks God, saying, "Each year you give us this joyful season." God chooses to restore, heal, forgive, raise up, and save rather than what we might expect: punishment for sin. God's plan is "that the world might be saved” through Christ. The Church proclaims today the truth that she can never really condemn anyone, as now in Christ "there is no condemnation". God will simply respect our choice to be apart from him if we, by our own faults, sever our personal union with Christ and the Church.
Lent, then, is not our making up for the sins of the past (they are forgiven), nor persuading God to love us (we are loved beyond all telling), but a joyful preparation to celebrate and take in the freedom Christ has won for us. "For by grace you have been saved through faith..; it is the gift of God."
Salvation. The extract from the Book of Chronicles gives us an account of the great exile known as the Babylonian Captivity that occurred in 586 BC. After over four hundred years of rule by the descendents of King David the
Now, Babylon on the banks of the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers was attractive and even exciting. The exiles faced a temptation to get comfortable in Babylon. If they did that, however, they risked losing the one thing that really mattered - their home, Jerusalem, God himself. The Psalmist, therefore, speaks out: "May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy."
The Captivity lasted seventy years and then God moved the heart of the new ruler of
This can only be described as a profound experience of salvation for them. Jesus now tells Nicodemus what is about to happen. He reveals to this important member of the Jewish hierarchy that God is going to intervene in an even more spectacular way and is going to definitively bring about salvation not merely for the Jewish people but for the whole human race.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher among the Israelites and a ruler prominent in the synagogue. Mentioned only in the fourth Gospel, Nicodemus personified those among the learned Jewish leaders who were well-disposed to Jesus; they were impressed by his teaching and his healings, but they did not fully comprehend his plan or his purpose. Nicodemus has come, during the dark of night, to hear from Jesus about eternal life and even more, just about Jesus. Christ relished His talk with the well-read gentleman. Christ enters into a deep conversation with him.
Through Nicodemus, Jesus grasps the opportunity to teach.
Nicodemus asks several questions to which Jesus responds:
The first part of the dialogue centers on the necessity for rebirth as the essential prerequisite for entry into the
In the opening saying about the serpent and the Son of man, we have an interesting interpretation of the cross. He first asks His listener to recall how Moses, the great Jewish leader saved his people by raising the image of a serpent and all who looked upon it were healed. Using this historical reference, Jesus indicates that He, too, will be lifted up, on the cross to heal all those who look upon Him with the eyes of faith. This seeing/believing in Him Who has been sent, will lead to eternal life.
Salvation does not come by avoiding the confrontation with evil but by looking the serpent in the eye; conquering the cruel evil of crucifixion with perfect love and forgiveness; conquering death by bowing his head in submission and being raised to a glorified life! Jesus did not, nor can we, go around suffering and death. He gives us certain hope precisely because he entered into it and overcame it.
Jesus confronts evil with good; darkness with light. The light shines in the darkness and darkness could not overcome it. A strong theme of John’s Gospel is that of Jesus’ being the “light”. Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. Maybe these sentences reveal the heart of sin itself. Light displays too much of our life. We become ashamed. We hide our sinful selves. Yet we are built to seek the light.
Too often, timidity also holds us back from being bold in our commitment to Jesus. What is said to Nicodemus today is for our ears, as well. Nicodemus is the timid disciple. Like him too, we are afraid to place our lives on the table. We say, "Why not give me a call tomorrow, Lord?" We know we will be out tomorrow. The poor fellow was a reluctant disciple. In a word, Nicodemus was a respectable person, who was shackled by conventions and fearful of great decisions. The opinion of the fellow next door was more important than that of Christ's. Do you get the feeling we are talking about ourselves? Nicodemus has come to visit with Jesus by night. He was not anxious to be seen by friends in daylight with this strange preacher. He had much to lose. So, he was an after midnight follower. He would remain a closet disciple. Will that be our fate? Or will we be bold enough to break free of our restraints? Finally Nicodemus came forward in the light to claim the body of Christ.
"BY GRACE you have been saved through faith." It is tempting to think that believing in Christ means simply that we affirm the creed, or that we agree that Jesus existed and worked miracles and died and rose from the dead. To accept these truths is important but this is not what is meant by "believing" in this passage. To believe in the One who was "lifted up" means nothing less than to make his self-offering part of our own lives through daily concern for others; it means to live unselfishly. Faith must affect the way we live in family; the truth we speak to lies; the compassion we live with those marginalized in our society. This is the only kind of faith that will give us eternal life.
That wonderful line of Kierkegaard comes to mind. "It is so much easier to become a Christian when you aren't one than to become one when you assume you already are."