Sunday Sermon for March 14, 2021, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B
Readings: 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21
Today we celebrate Laetare Sunday, that is, the Sunday to rejoice or be joyful. Given the circumstances in the Church and in the world right now, many people would be hard pressed to find much to be joyful about. We see this same problem in the readings today, but we also see the great reason to be joyful. This dichotomy has been the pattern for several thousand years and it continues today. As children of God and members of Christ, we need to rejoice and be joyful. Therefore, we need to look at these two responses and learn how, in the midst of darkness and despair, we can actually rejoice and be joyful.
In the first reading we hear about infidelities, abominations, and desecrations of the Temple in Jerusalem. Fast forward twenty-five hundred years and we have the same things happening today. We are told that God had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place, so He sent prophets “early and often” to call the people back. The people, we are told, mocked the messengers, despised God’s warnings, and scoffed at His prophets. Eventually, God punished His own people because of the evil they were perpetrating and used the enemies of Israel to destroy Jerusalem, tear down the Temple, and exile His people.
After returning from exile, the people served the Lord for many years. However, in time, they started doing the evil their ancestors had done before them. This time, because He loved the world so much, God sent His Son so those who believe in Him might have eternal life. So, the Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. The people chose to put their Lord, God, and Savior to death and, once again, God allowed the enemies of Israel to destroy Jerusalem and tear down the Temple.
Perhaps it was because there was so much evil going on that the people were despairing and could not hear what God was saying through His prophets and through His Son. However, this possibility is not supported by the Scriptures. Our readings tell us that it was the evil being perpetrated by the people that darkened their minds and hearts to the Word of God. In other words, it seems that many people decided to join in with doing evil since it appeared to have the upper hand. Not only did they fail to remain faithful to God, but when He reached out to them, they rejected and killed Him.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us God is rich in mercy and because of His great love for us, He raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavens. When we hear this, our first response is that it would be impossible to turn our backs on God when given such a gift. How could anyone ignore the Lord or, worse, practice abominations, infidelities, and desecrations when such dignity has been undeservingly bestowed upon us as a gift of pure love? I do not have an answer to the question of how, but when we look around, both within and outside the Church, we will find an abundance of examples demonstrating that many people are repeating the patterns shown us in history.
It is in the midst of this kind of darkness and evil that we need to be rejoicing. We do not rejoice in the evil, but we rejoice because God is at work in the world even when evil seems to be celebrating its triumph. With the eyes of faith, we can see the light beginning to shine in the darkness, even when there seems to be more darkness than light. The Apostles faced a similar situation when there was a crowd of five thousand people and only five loaves and two fish to feed them all. They pointed out to Jesus that so little could never satisfy so many. Jesus responded by working a miracle.
This is where the cause for rejoicing comes in. In the first reading, we hear how the Lord raised up a pagan emperor who brought the Lord’s people back to Jerusalem and charged them to rebuild the Temple. In the second reading, St. Paul says God will show the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Jesus Christ. In case we did not understand what he was saying, St. Paul states emphatically, “This is not from you; it is the gift of God.” In the Gospel, Jesus tells us if we believe, we have eternal life and whoever lives the truth comes to the light. This is God’s battle. The light is beginning to shine in the darkness; come to the Light, be victorious in Christ, and gain eternal life. This is cause for rejoicing!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.