Fourth Sunday of Lent
The Second Book of Chronicles provides this Lenten weekend with its first reading. Chronicles was written about 1,000 years before Jesus. The identity of its author is unknown. As the title of this book implies, its purpose is to record the history of God’s people. The most important aspect of their history always was religious.
A constant refrain and source of grief among the prophets and the devout of ancient Israel was the sinfulness of the people, most particularly that of the kings. God caused or willed no distress or hardship. Rather, by disobeying God the people themselves upset the order of life, bringing trouble upon themselves.
This reading insists that God again and again has sent messengers to call the people to piety. Inevitably, these messengers met rebuke.
As an example of all this, Babylonia overtook the Holy Land because sin had weakened the Hebrew kingdoms. Then the conquerors took many Hebrews to Babylon, where the Hebrews’ lives were miserable.
A pagan king, Cyrus, of Persia, freed these sad people when, in turn, he overcame Babylon. The Hebrews saw Cyrus as an instrument of God’s mercy.
The Epistle to the Ephesians furnishes the second reading. It teaches critical facts about God, the source of all goodness. Salvation is God’s merciful gift. No one deserves it. God lavishly extends it to us as an expression of eternal, divine love.
St. John’s Gospel gives this Liturgy of the Word its final reading. In this reading Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a prominent and pious Jew from Jerusalem. The Lord refers to an event that occurred during the Exodus, when Moses lifted high a serpent. All who looked upon this serpent were rescued from death.
Serpents were important in ancient iconography, although more important among pagans than among Jews. Serpents symbolized eternal life, since they shed their hides and seemingly are reborn to new lives.
Jesus predicts being lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent. He was referring to the crucifixion. All who look upon Jesus will have everlasting life.
Even so, Jesus is not a conqueror of people despite their own choices. People must freely choose to follow Jesus by renouncing their sin.
This is important. God “so loved the world.” God desires life for us and therefore sent Jesus to lead us to life, even if we, on occasion, prefer darkness and, indeed, doom ourselves.
This weekend often is called “Laetare Sunday,” taking its name from the Latin word, laetare, to rejoice. This is the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, which in the Roman Rite, for centuries, was in Latin.
In the liturgies of this weekend priests have the option of wearing pink — or to be precise, rose — vestments. Rose is not the toning down of a stricter purple. Rather, it is the subdued purple brightened by the golden light of the Resurrection. Easter lies just a few weeks ahead.
This custom mimics the coming of dawn. Daylight does not initially appear in a burst of gold. Instead, it comes gradually. The first sign of dawn is a rose-colored sky.
Today reminds us that the sunburst of Easter is not far away. So, this weekend, the Church calls us to rejoice, even if we are in the fourth week of Lent, the season of austerity and penance.
The victory of Christ is near. Salvation is near! The Lord won salvation for us on the cross.
Beyond Calvary, Jesus, eternally victorious over death, stands before us, the “Light of the World.” For humanity, the blessed fact is that anyone who turns to Jesus, and in Jesus is obedient to God, will share in His victory over death and sin.
God gave us Jesus so that we might live.
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