2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem. Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the Lord against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power. All this was to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah: “Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.” In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”
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 seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 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. 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.
Gospel Cycle Cycle B
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 that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. 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 the 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.
Once again we meet an angry God in the first reading for this Sunday. Always these images of an angry God are tough to struggle with in order to understand them in the light of Jesus. So often in these early writing, when bad things happened, the writer interpreted them as happening with the permission of God who is angry because of the lack of conversion of the people.
Even today people struggle to understand darkness, evil, violence and things of that nature. We can never understand why little children are destroyed—and yet every day countless numbers of little children are murder, killed, assaulted, abused and harmed in other ways. Where is God? How can we possibly believe that there is a God when these things happen?
Every day also countless parents see their children die and countless children see their parents die and so often because of wars, abuse, governments that do not care and other such causes. Where is God? How can there be a God?
These are the kinds of questions that our ancestors also struggled with. They are ultimately religious questions. Is there any meaning to life at all?
In the first reading today, it is the pagan Persian King Cyrus who is responsible for sending Jewish people back to Israel to rebuild the temple. This is to show that God works as God wants—and not always through religious people. This is a strong message for us in Lent: God is at work in all nations and in all peoples, but always in His way to bring about what He knows is right.
This never takes away the special role of the Chosen People, the Jewish People. They are God’s chosen ones with whom His covenant endures. And it does not take away the special role of Christians, the followers of Jesus, the Son of God. They also have a new covenant with God. But God cannot be confined.
The Gospel is so clear today that Jesus does not come to us to condemn us but to save us by his own life and love. This is no angry God nor a God who would ever break His covenants. The scandal is that Jesus comes in weakness to heal our brokenness. The second reading, from the letter to the Ephesians, is focusing on this same theme: we are saved by grace and not by our works. By ourselves we are never able to lead complete good lives. So much of the 12 step program for alcoholics is based on this deepest intuition of human life: we cannot continue to live well without a power greater than ourselves giving us strength and courage. For Christians, that power is Christ Himself, the Son of God.
The Gospel is also clear that most of us choose to live in the darkness rather than choose the to live in the light. This should not scare us. It is simply a part of our normal daily choice. When we are honest, many of us have to admit that we don’t really spend a great deal of time looking for the deep realities of the spirit. Rather, we just get on with living and turn to God when we find a need to do so. This happens even in monasteries! One of the most important phrases of today’s Gospel is this: “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” One of the traditional ways of knowing God is seeking for the truth.
May this Lent encourage us all to seek the truth and to strive to live the truth that we have found with all of our energy. This seeking and striving will bring us to Christ.