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Friday, 9 March 2018

4th Sunday of Lent Year B 2018

4th. Sunday of Lent (B)
       (2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-21; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)

It must have seemed very mysterious to the People of Israel when, later on, scrutinizing the Scriptures in order to better understand and serve the Lord their God, they were faced with that bizarre incident taken from the history of their forebears journeying across the desert from slavery to the land the Lord would give them, that there they might serve Him in freedom.  It was, indeed, mysterious for them -- and unavoidably so -- because the whole episode has been found to be rich with meaning and significance not only for subsequent Israelites over more than 1000 years, but even more particularly for the whole future Christian people.  In the desert, several hundreds, perhaps a few thousands, of the children of Israel were saved by looking up at the bronze likeness of a deadly serpent; and that saving incident, interpreted for us by Jesus’ words in the Gospel, has carried and still bears with it salutary teaching for Christian people of all times.  For God, having sent the punishing serpents to do their work among a sinful and rebellious people, was subsequently able to turn that deadly instrument of His wrath into a saving grace: ‘look faithfully at the bronze serpent in sincere acknowledgment of your sin, and you will be healed of your wounds’.

For us now, Jesus says that God the Father has allowed His only begotten Son, His Beloved, to be rejected by the religious authorities of His own people and cruelly tortured, before being lifted up on the Cross by the powers and principalities of imperial Rome, and finally being left as an exhibit to suffer a slow and agonising death.  Can God turn that most brutal, degrading, and horrendous event to serve any good purpose?  Most assuredly He can, for love -- divine love -- was involved: for He Who suffered chose to call Himself the ‘Son of Man’.  As Son of His Father Jesus was consumed with divine love for us, while, as Man -- and indeed as our Head -- He loved His Father and our Father with the total fullness of His divinely perfect humanity. 

The complete answer to our question was made manifest when Jesus, three days later, rose from the dead; for then His rejection and suffering on the Cross was shown to have been but a prelude to, and preparation for, His sublime exaltation to heavenly glory in our humanity!

Father, the hour has come.  Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify You.  (John 17:1)

Look on the bronze serpent, raised up on high that all might be able to see it, and find healing!  The bronze serpent showed the cause of Israel’s suffering, for it recalled and represented the original serpent in Eden who injected the poison of sin into human life, for indeed it was Israel’s sin that brought on the punishment of those serpent bites in the desert of Sinai.  Jesus-crucified-on-high likewise represented the horror of human suffering from sin (not His own but His people’s); but Jesus’ Pasch did not end with suffering for it was entered upon and embraced as but the initial stage of His way back to His Father; and so it is Jesus, having returned to His Father and been lifted up in the glory of God by the Spirit of God, Who now manifests the healing power being offered to all mankind against the primordial and still enduring ‘bite’ of sin and eternal death.

The LORD said to Moses, "Make a serpent and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover."

People of God, it is not enough for us -- the new Chosen People of Spirit and Truth -- to look on Jesus crucified with nothing more than sincere sorrow decrying such barbarity, for many humanists pride themselves on such sentiments.  It is necessary for us Catholics and all who aspire to salvation, to look at Jesus on that pole of suffering not only humbly confessing Him to have been raised up there for our sins, but also gratefully acknowledging that that same Jesus – still in His human flesh -- has now been raised up on high in glory.  The Risen and Glorious Lord Jesus is the One to Whom we must commit our sinful selves with absolute faith in His promises of Divine Goodness for our salvation, and with unshakeable confidence in the dying manifestation of His now-eternal human compassion:

            Father, forgive them for they know not what they do
            Amen I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. (Lk. 23:34, 43)

Only thus will we come to that living hope of which St. Peter speaks with such gratitude and confidence in his first letter:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who in His great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  (1 Peter 1:3)

People of God, the message of Christianity is perennial, and it has been proclaimed implicitly from the beginning of man’s relations with God, and explicitly in the life and teaching of Christ and His Church: in order to reach the fullness of our human capacity for life, the fullness for which we were originally created by God and subsequently redeemed by Christ, we must leave our sin and sinfulness behind by faith in, obedience to, and companionship with, Jesus our Saviour, present to us and for us in and through His Church.

The alternatives are stark and irreducible: as shown, on the one hand, in the horror of the Son of Man suffering as Jesus of Nazareth on the Cross on Calvary, and on the other hand, in the divine majesty of the same Son of Man raised up to, and sharing in, the eternal glory of His Father by the Spirit of them Both.

Why must there be this utterly un-crossable divide?   Because of the divine beauty and unimaginable goodness of God’s love for us.  Our scientists search ever more frantically for other life-supporting planets such as our Earth.  There are none in our solar system and so they go ever further and deeper into mind-numbingly distant galaxies and stars looking for possible planetary systems to be found there … but nothing can be found like our dear Earth … for we are uniquely loved and divinely created in the image and likeness of God.  Profligacy in creation or indifference in our moral response to it are unthinkable because they are both absolutely alien to the beauty, holiness, and sheer majesty of Divine Love willing to express and to expose Itself in our fleshly being for our eternal calling.

St. Paul in today’s second reading guides us to the ultimate root of our faith:

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 seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.

Dear People of God, the great tragedy and the ultimate wrong afflicting and threatening our world today is ingratitude to, wilful ignorance and defiance of, God’s love for us and all mankind; above all, however, such ingratitude, ignorance, and defiance shown by nominally Catholic Christians!  The very first petition in the only prayer taught us by Jesus goes immediately, as did His whole life, to this most radical evil afflicting our world today: Father, HALLOWED be Thy name.

We all have to treasure our God-given faith most carefully as was explained in our second reading:

For by grace you have been saved through FAITH, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.

And I think it is essential in today’s climate in lands formerly Catholic and Christian (now delighting in a pseudo-freedom to sin and do whatever they want to proclaim themselves) to emphasize, in the words of Jesus Himself, what Faith really means for us, it is Life and Love:

I am doing this because our second reading ended, somewhat unfortunately, with these words:

For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

Dear fellow Catholics, how ‘do-gooders’ who reject our faith, reject Jesus, reject the existence of any supreme God and any idea of everlasting, eternal, Life before God in heaven, must love that translation ‘that we should LIVE IN them’.  Those words are far too close to being what do-gooders would ideally want them to be, which is ‘that we should LIVE BY them’.

People of God, we Catholics do not live by good works, we walk in them as our Vulgate official bible, and the majority of the best modern translations also, translates the Greek original.   We live by the Faith explained to us by Jesus Himself and still proposed to us by His Catholic Church today:

Now this is eternal life, that they should know You, the only true God, and the One Whom You sent, Jesus Christ.   (John 17:3)

We walk in good works (of whatever sort God has prepared us for and called us to), ‘For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for (such) good works’.

Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ, may our lives, refreshed and renewed by today’s fellowship in and with Jesus our Lord, help Mother Church bring to fulfilment His work and our glorious legacy:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.