40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Fourth Sunday in Lent-B (Laetare Sunday), 14 March 2021 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 ><}}}*> Ephesians 2:4-10 ><}}}*> John 3:14-21
Today we burst in joyful shades of pink in our liturgy as we rejoice in this Fourth Sunday in Lent known as “Laetare Sunday” when our entrance antiphon calls us to “Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her…”
This early as we go halfway through in our journey to Easter, we are called to rejoice as we continue to experience God’s immense love for us in Jesus Christ seen in our readings and most especially, if we have truly taken into heart the spirit of Lent through prayer, fasting and abstinence, and alms-giving.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Just 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 may have eternal life. For God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”John 3:14-16
Path to God opened for us in Christ crucified, our light.
As we have mentioned last week, the fourth gospel is also called “the book of signs” because John refers to the miracles and words of Jesus as “signs” that point to him as the Messiah or Christ, the Anointed One of God.
This Sunday we hear John introducing to us another sign and symbol he uses in his gospel for Jesus: his being LIGHT himself.
This we must first see in the context of his crucifixion which John refers to so many times in his gospel as Jesus being lifted up or raised up on the cross.
It is very meaningful for John because the Crucifixion is Christ’s greatest sign and revelation of his glory when he opened a path for us back to God in his Cross. It is in opening this path to God in his Cross that Jesus had also shone so brightly as our light along the way.
After cleansing the temple last week, John tells us how at the start of the following third chapter of his gospel that “There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews” who “came to Jesus at night” (Jn.3:1,2) to discuss things he must have heard and seen about Jesus.
Remember chronemics, the non-verbal communication expressed by time and space? Again we find this employed by John in our gospel scene this Sunday in Nicodemus meeting Jesus at night.
According to biblical scholars, Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night in order to hide in darkness for he was afraid of being publicly associated with Jesus considering his being member of the Sanhedrin, the highest governing body in Israel at that time.
Moreover, his coming at night to Jesus is also symbolic, suggesting that despite his expertise in the Mosaic Law, Nicodemus felt within him a sense of still living in darkness and ignorance. If you read this whole scene, you find many instances of darkness and ignorance in Nicodemus that at one point, there is a tinge of sarcasm from the Lord telling him, “You are a teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?” (Jn.3:10)
Eventually on Good Friday, Nicodemus would come out into the open to join another secret disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea when they asked Pilate for his body to be buried in a new tomb not far from the site of the crucifixion (Jn.19:38-42).
The fourth gospel teems with many teachings as well as scenes depicting Jesus as the light dispelling the many darkness that envelops the world beginning at its Prologue.
Only John has this scene of Jesus discussing with Nicodemus his coming from heaven to dispel the darkness in our lives.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”John 3:17-21
Jesus enlightening us, uplifting us
This love of God for us through the coming of Jesus Christ is not only the joy of Lent but the very joy of our lives the Lord had expressed in two ways: in being our light in the many darkness of life as well as in uplifting us all from the quagmire of sins and evil.
But this joy in the Lord needs to be worked for; it does not come in handy as something given out freely in the sense that it calls us to do a Nicodemus too, of making efforts to come out from darkness, to follow the light of Jesus Christ that leads to the Cross.
And this is where it becomes more joyous, how Jesus enlightens us and lifts us up with him to the Father.
Let me explain it this way: when we talk of sin, we always find its logical connection with punishment. We see it everywhere and have always experienced it because rightly so, every sin is punished. Certainly, no one escapes punishment of sins in this life or life after. It is the law of karma that in every action, there is a corresponding reaction (excluded are other concepts like reincarnation we do not accept).
The problem arises in the question who punishes us for our sins?
Unfortunately, in any religion the finger always points at God which is very untrue and unfair!
God does not punish and would never do so because “God is love (1 Jn.4:16)”!
Those passages we find in the Old Testament of God “getting angry, punishing people” are literary devices used to convey to us deeper truths about God as a person relating with us like human. But notice too that the Sacred Scriptures itself declare in so many instances how God is “so gentle and slow to anger, full of mercy always foregoing his wrath” on the sinful.
Jesus clarified this in many instances, in words and in deeds, when he showed mercy and forgiveness to sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors who were then considered the most wretched and hopeless ones in the society. In the healing of the man born blind, Jesus clarified that sickness and disease are not a punishment from God (Jn.9:1-12).
Rest be assured in his words today to Nicodemus, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
St. Paul attests to this truth found in his beautiful reflection in the second reading:
Brothers and sisters: God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved — raised us up with him, and sealed us wit him in the heavens in Christ Jesus…Ephesians 2:4-6
Such is the great love of God for us. When something bad happens to us due to our sins or somebody else’s sins, it is not from God. It is our self-indictment of refusing to change our sinful ways that we suffer the consequences of our evil deeds: “And this is the verdict, that light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.“
When we try to reflect deeper, we find that avoiding sins is the most practical thing we can always do in life but, unfortunately, something we refuse to do for so many reasons.
Why we prefer darkness than light is something we have always been struggling with when we know so well it is better to be out in the light.
If we reflect deeply, we realize that God has no need for us; he remains perfect even if we sin, if we do not obey him, if we abandon him. But God chose to love us, even begging us to remain good and holy so we can be fulfilled in this life.
Should something bad happens to us because of our sins or somebody else’s sins, the very good news is that God would always find ways to enlighten us to ensure it will turn out well for our own good, even if he has to use pagans and unbelievers or sinners to bring us back into light as experienced by his people with King Cyrus of Persia.
We all have a Nicodemus in us when we sometimes prefer darkness, of coming to Jesus at night because of fears of what others might say about us in following the path of the Lord, of being good, being just, being kind, and being holy.
Like Nicodemus, we try following and listening to Jesus from afar as we have been so used to staying and living in darkness when light sometimes hurt our eyes, making it difficult for us to really see and accept people and things because truth hurts.
This Sunday, let us examine the many darkness we still have within us. Like the author of the Book of Chronicles we heard in the first reading, let us try to see the religious significance of what is happening in our lives and nation to find where God is leading us.
Jesus had come to save us, not to judge us. Step out from your darkness within and let the light of Jesus enlighten and uplift you high like never before in rejoicing as you see the beauty of life in God its author. Amen. A blessed and joyful week to everyone!