Sunday Sermon for March 18, 2012, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B

Readings: 2Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

In the readings today we see a series of opposites: death and life, evil and good, fidelity and infidelity, condemnation and salvation, light and darkness. What is interesting about these dichotomies is that everything on the positive side comes from God while everything on the negative side is caused by human choice and, therefore, sin.

In the first reading we hear about the Israelites adding infidelity to infidelity and practicing all of the abominations of the nations and desecrating the Temple of the Lord. We hear also about the compassion of God, sending Prophets to call the people back, but each time the people became worse than they were before. Finally, we are told there was no other remedy but to allow the enemies of Israel to attack, destroy the Temple and the city of Jerusalem and carry the people off into exile.

After seventy years, the number of Sabbath years that the people did not restore debts and allow the ground to be fallow, God raised up a pagan king, Cyrus of Persia to bring the people back to Israel and to rebuild the Temple. God did this for the good of the people, but also for His own glory.

In the Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus that, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. Of course, the reason Moses had to make the serpent was because of the blasphemy of the people, in punishment of which God sent serpents that bit the people. When the people looked at the bronze serpent on the pole they were healed of the lethal snakebite. Again, God did this for the good of the people and for His own glory.

It is in the context of the Son of Man being lifted up that Jesus tells us about God loving the world so much that He sent His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life. Faith leads to salvation in Christ, failure to believe leads to condemnation. Jesus also tells us that He is the light that came into the world, but humanity chose darkness over the light. Nonetheless, He tells us that anyone who lives the truth comes into the light to demonstrate that his works are done in God. Once again, we see the great mercy of God toward fallen and disobedient humanity. All of this is done for our good and for the glory of God.

In the second reading St. Paul tells us that while we were dead in our transgressions God brought us to life in Christ. More than that, He raised us up with Christ and seated us with Jesus in the heavens so that in the age to come He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace and kindness to us in Jesus. St. Paul then reminds us that it is by God’s grace that we have been saved, not by any works of or own; it is purely a gift, so we cannot boast. Once again, we see that God did this for our good and for His glory.

One thing we have to be careful about is giving into the temptation that we can do anything we want and God will save us. The fact is that His grace is being offered to us at every moment, just as it was for the Israelites who rejected the grace and heaped up sin upon sin. When we presume on God’s mercy, rather than repenting and praying for His mercy, our selfishness tends to double over on itself and crush us underneath it. This is what happened when the people were taken into exile. As it said in the first reading, there was no other remedy. So, even the “bad” things that happened to the people we see as being for their good and for the glory of God.

As Catholics we have to be very careful because we see that God allowed His Temple to be destroyed. In fact, He allowed it at least three times. God sent His Son into the world to die for us, but from the human point of view, we tried to destroy Him. The Church is Jesus Christ in the world today. Do we think that God will not allow the Church to be destroyed? God raised up a pagan to rebuild the Temple, He raised the Temple of the Lord’s Body from the tomb and He will raise up the Church again as well. In the meantime, if we continue in sin and disobedience, choosing darkness over light, He may well allow some “bad” things to happen. All of it is for our good and God’s glory.

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