Sunday in the Fourth Week of Lent
First Reading: Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 Psalms 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: John 3:14-21
The fourth Sunday of lent is called Laetare Sunday, from the Latin word meaning “Rejoice”. The good news of Jesus Christ is indeed a cause of rejoicing. He began the restoration of the kingdom of God by calling us to, “repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). The Gospel is the good news that Express the mercy of God through Jesus Christ who leads us to eternal life. God in his mercy redeems and sanctifies us although our sin condemns us. His good news of mercy requires, though, an awareness of sinfulness.
We can do nothing to merit our salvation. Our own evil actions only bring about condemnation. God gives us salvation gratuitously, as we read from the second reading.
The first reading speaks of the wickedness of the people of Israel that led to their exile in Babylon. But God is faithful when his people did not forsake his promises. Rather, his mercy is shown through the pagan ruler Cyrus who restores Israel to the Holy Land and helps to rebuild the Temple which had been destroyed.
This experience of exile is a consequence of sin that had separated the Israelites from their God and from the land he had given to them. Sin separates us from God as well, and from the dwelling he wishes to make with us. They are restored to their land and to their God through the rebuilding of the Temple.
Jesus’s death and resurrection is often seen in Exodus imagery: God liberating his people once more from slavery, this time to sin, and bringing them into the Promised Land, this time into eternal life. But the image of return from exile is equally important and powerful: that is, in Jesus, God brings us back from the exile. Our Exile here is our separation from him caused by sin. He brings us into our true home where we can dwell with him.
Jesus will accomplish this restoration through his cross, by being lifted up as a source of healing and eternal life. He wants us to live, not to die, as expressed so nicely in a common Lenten antiphon: “As I live, says the Lord, I do not wish the sinner to die, but to turn back to me and live” (cf. Ezek 18:23). But Jesus goes on to say that many people prefer darkness to light, that is, they prefer death to life. Though this may sound irrational, the sad reality is that the world trains us to look for life in the darkness, and that wealth, pleasure, fame, success, experiences, health, and so many other things of the world will bring us happiness and fulfillment. Those who only know the darkness become comfortable with it, and even if they are dissatisfied and miserable, it is all they know. In the most extreme form of this, addicts to alcohol, drugs, sex, and other destructive behaviours come to prefer the darkness they dwell in to the light of freedom.
But Jesus is the light, God’s own Son given to us and for us, who desires to restore sinners who are in exile. He wants to bring light to those who live in darkness. He wants to bring life to those who are perishing. This is the good news, that “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.” It is a cause for rejoicing in the midst of our Lenten efforts to repent and believe in the Gospel. We pray that we may always recognize God’s generous mercy in giving up His only son for our healing and redemption. May He grant us the grace to believe in him that we may be saved.