4th Sunday of Lent, March 14, 2021

Edward Schillebeeckx was a famous Dominican theologian from Belgium who lived and worked, for the most part, in the last century, passing away in 2009.  There’s a story that he often told on himself that speaks poignantly to the message of today’s gospel on this 4th Sunday of Lent.

When Schillebeeckx joined the Dominicans in the 1930’s, it was the tradition that the seminarians would get up at 2:00 a.m. and go to the chapel to pray.  Being young and enthusiastic, Schillebeeckx very much appreciated this middle of the night rising to sing God’s praises, which prompted him to feel so very close to God.  He wrote the following to his father, “How wonderful it feels to be praising God when all the world around me is asleep and I and my fellow seminarians are giving glory to God.”

Schillebeeckx’s father wrote back that he was glad that his son appreciated his new life, but he should remember that when he was an infant – one of fourteen children – his parents too were often up at 2:00 a.m.  “Yes,” his father wrote, “we too were giving glory to God, although we weren’t quite singing the psalms.”

The young theologian discovered God apart from the rest of the world.  His wise, faithful father, however, reminded him that God was also to be found immersed in the midst of the messiness of the world and the complexities of life.

Today’s gospel passage is far more familiar to us than we might realize at first glance.  I’m sure not a few of us have noticed a reference it is on banners at football games and on bumper stickers:  John 3:16.  …  “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.”

We’ve all heard this passage – these words of life – before.  But let’s not end with verse 16.  Let’s recall verse 17 as well.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  That’s the deeper message today!  That’s why we rejoice on this 4th Sunday of Lent.

Listen to the incredible words of each of our scripture passages today.  …  In our first reading from the Old Testament book of Chronicles, King Cyrus announces God’s saving love:  “Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”  …  St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians proclaims God’s lavish mercy that brought us to life, “even when we were dead in our transgressions.”  …  And of course, St. John’s gospel reminds us of God’s transforming love – the means to our salvation.

Sadly, however, many of us have a poor image of God that is not at all consistent with the scriptures or particularly with the words of Jesus himself.  Far more of us than we might imagine picture God as a judge, only too eager to condemn us when we fall.  And, strangely enough, far too many of us have adopted a sense of self-righteousness that finds us competing with God as the ultimate judge of the world, only too eager to condemn others and determine who is worthy of God’s love and who is not!

Jesus paints another picture.  None of us is worthy.  All of us are in need of God’s saving grace.  It is God who first loved us.  It is God who is rich in mercy.

The word of God is clear and unambiguous throughout its accounts of salvation history!  God reaches out to us over and over again, even after we choose darkness rather than light.  God desires to raise us up when we fall down.

But God’s grace is far from cheap, brothers and sisters.  While we will always be burdened with the sinfulness of our world, being raised up requires that we first admit that we’ve fallen down.  God doesn’t seek perfection.  He does, however, seek hearts that are humble enough to acknowledge our brokenness and to trust in his power to save us.

The good news of the scripture today on this 4th Sunday of Lent that has traditionally called us to rejoice is that God has not stopped reaching out to us.  God meets us where we are, so invite God into your life as it is, whether in light or darkness.  And remember, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

May we make this image of God our own!