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.
It is not easy to rejoice always in the Lord. This Sunday liturgy calls us to rejoice and sometimes our hearts just cannot be there. The Second Book of Chronicles tells of the infidelity of our ancestors in the faith. They just could not remain faithful to God and became worse and worse. Today, at times, our world seems headed in the same direction. We need only think of the countless innocent people still being killed in terrorist attacks around the world. How can this go on in our world?
God allows evil but God does not do evil. Sometimes our hearts resist God because an evil has touched too close to us. In the account from the Second Book of Chronicles, God allows His people to return to their homeland. This is not because all of His people had become good, but only because God is merciful. He does not hold our sins against us.
The Gospel from Saint John reflects this also: look to the Lord for mercy and you will be healed. John is so very clear: God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Every time that we meet up with an image of God that makes God appear as someone waiting to destroy us or condemn us, we should think of this passage. God loves us even more than we love ourselves.
The Letter to the Ephesians tells us today that even when we were dead in our transgressions, God raised us up to live with Him. So often we Christians don’t really believe that God can love us as much as that, and so we come up with limited images of God’s love for us. Think of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father runs to meet his son even before the son has had a chance to apologize. There is no sense here that God will treat His people with anything except love.
Far too often it is we who do not love ourselves because we don’t trust God. Can we really let God love us in this time of Lent. Will we come to trust Him that He loves us more than we could ever imagine? Then we can rejoice in the Lord!