2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23
Psalm 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
So that we might be more available to the graces of these readings, we might imagine Jesus sitting in the dark of night with a small candle in front of them. Jesus is reading from a scroll and making comments about how he himself will be lifted up as was the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert so as to heal all who looked upon it.
Nicodemus shakes his head in a gesture of befuddlement. He came secretly to gain some wisdom and all he gets are invitations to believe. This is true wisdom for Jesus, but not yet for Nicodemus.
Half way through Lent and we find ourselves praying for more cleansing and more purity in our relationship with Jesus. We are freed through our faith in Jesus and his resurrection, but we are not freed from our own self-imposed exiles. Israel was loved always by God, but they did not always use well the freedom which that love provided. We can grow quite accustomed and flippant with our being loved through Jesus, taking it for granted rather than as granted through the Spirit.
These days of Lent we can go, Nicodemus-like, in the secrecy of our private prayer, to celebrate more publicly, the death and resurrection which infinitely consummates God’s love for us. We can pray with the realization of our little exiles, our secret ways of avoiding our living faithfully God’s calls and invitations. Lent is a prayerful time to rake away the coverings of deadly winter so that Jesus’ personal love can rise, spring-like in our spirits and actions.
We do not hear often in our liturgies from the writings known as The Books of Chronicles. They are generally a collection of histories representing the personal love of God for Israel, especially involving the rebuilding of the holy temple in Jerusalem. Besides recounting the history recorded in Genesis and the other books of the Pentateuch, the chronicler adds other events not found elsewhere.
What we hear today is a recounting of how Israel had grown slack and easy about their cultic practices centering around the temple. So in a sense, too much of a good thing leads Israel away from their relationship with their God and subsequently into exile. Enter a stranger, a powerful king of Persia who makes quite a bold statement and then a stranger proclamation of freedom for the captive people of Israel. Cyrus is inspired to claim that all the kingdoms of the earth have been given him by God. The unusual proclamation is that all the people who belong, even in part to the people of Israel must return and he will rebuild the temple which was destroyed in punishment. He leads them back and blesses them with the words, “and may his God go with him.”
Today’s Second Reading needs little commentary; it ought to be prayed over very slowly. Especially worthy of personal reflection are the words about our having been saved is by a tremendous gift of “grace” and not by our works. Ah, but we are created again by “grace” to do those “good works” which flow from that same participation in God’s holiness and life, which is “grace” itself. Please pray with, and perhaps memorize this central passage of our freedom and faith.
The Gospel is not so much a story or parable, but an important theological display of John. God loves this world and has always loved it into a further revelation of that love. John writes that God loved this world in this particular way; God sent the Son to offer eternal life. This saving of the world is not merely the judicial non-condemnation of its inhabitants, but saving the world from not being a revelation place. The inhabitants are saved from the dark of not knowing who they are; saved from not knowing the good works for which they were also saved.
The Gospel ends with a favorite theme of John’s Gospel, that of light battling darkness. Jesus as the light both enlightens those who see him and believe in him, but calls to all to come out into the light and do those works which are lights by which the goodness of God might be seen as well.
I have spoken personally to many people who have a certain resentment towards their parents for a very common behavior. They had to be good and do good things outside the family circle for how these good actions would reflect on the family and especially the parents. “What will the neighbors say?” That kind of spirit would take lots of the fun out of life in the neighborhood.
Mr. Spath was our Norwegian neighbor and my parents did not seem to care what he thought about them. He did not believe in God, but our actions as well as the love of the Jesus in whom he did not believe, assured him a very high place in the heaven in which he also did not believe. We would leap over his Peony bushes, which were always just a little higher than we could leap. He became an expert in replacing garage window-glass and giving us back our baseballs. He forgave us, maybe because he knew we were Irish, but perhaps more, because he so loved us and our world that he gave his only and beloved Peonies for our lively adventures.
I think my parents did not care what the neighbors thought, because they knew themselves to be good and loving. They wanted us six kids to live as reflections of their love for each other and for us. Eventually we stopped torturing Mr. Spath and began doing those good works which reflected that we were loved. We did not do and are not doing, those good works so as to be loved, but because we were so loved by the parents who gave their lives to us and in a sense, for us.
These days of Lent we are invited to pray for the experience of being
so loved by God that by that grace, we will light up this world’s darkness.
The God who loves us wants that love to continue creating a world where
Peonies grow unhindered and if they are a bit, a Mr. Spath-like God will
forgive and continue repairing the broken windows of this world.
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