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.
Mercy on mercy on mercy! This is Lent! Lent is not about making life difficult for myself so that I can earn God’s love. Neither is Lent about being better than anyone else or even thinking that I have a better spirituality. Lent is supposed to be, for us, a sincere, honest and strong seeking of the Lord and knowing God’s mercy.
The Second Book of Chronicles gives us a summary of what happened in Israel and Judea. The leaders and the people did not listen to the Lord and were no longer interested in seeking the ways of God. We should never look on this as some simple explanation of history. Instead, it is our own history. We, all of us, get attracted to the goods of the present world. It does not matter what it is that attracts, but whatever attraction it is, it can take us away from God unless we are clear that God is always first.
For most of us, even now, God is not always first. Instead, we want to make Him first but often choose other values. It is not as though we can choose God just as if we could choose a nice pet. God is chosen by us in the midst of choosing other things—and often we do not even consider His presence when we are making choices—and thus God is not first.
This was surely part of the story of the Second Book of Chronicles. The leaders and the people often were not actively choosing against God. Instead, they were not choosing in and for God. And we do the same.
The Letter to the Ephesians and the Gospel of John today show to us a God who is always with us and always seeking us. The Letter to the Ephesians is so strong in stating that God loved us and loves us even when we were or are in death because of our sins. Nothing is strong enough to destroy this love that God has for us. Even serious sin never destroys Gods love for us. What serious sin does in damage our capacity to respond to that love.
The Gospel of John reminds us that God has sent Jesus not to condemn the world but the save it. We can put that even more personally: God is never interested in condemning me but always interested in saving me.
Lent is a time for us to realize profoundly this love that God has for us. Lent is a time to open our hearts and realize that God is seeking us. Not matter how often we turn away from God or choose values or actions other than God, God is always there loving us and inviting us to share His love. If we realized the immensity of this love right now, we would surely die because of love. Yet we are almost frightened to believe that God can love us so much, especially when we realize how small our own love is.
Let us keep walking through this Lent, asking God to open our hearts, hoping that we might in some way realize the immensity of God’s love and begin to respond to it more faithfully every day! Let us walk in the light!