FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT(B) - March 11,2018
2 Chron 36: 14-17, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2: 4-10; John 3: 14-21
by Jude Siciliano, OP
I haven’t seen them recently, but at sporting events someone in the stands would hold up a sign that simply said, "John 3:16." It’s a verse in today’s gospel, "For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life." Of course, the person holding up a sign presumed the sports spectators knew the verse by heart; or would know how to look it up; or even know that it is a biblical quote. But anyway, we know it and we hear it proclaimed today in its context.
It is probably the most quoted verse in the Bible. It is the gospel summarized in one verse, "For God so loved.…" It is what a passionate lover might say, "I love you so much!" It is as if God is passionately in love with us… and God is! Jesus is the face of God, the face that draws us to God; draws us to believe, as John puts it, that God loves us passionately and that we already share in God’s eternal life. Note John’s use of the present tense, "… that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." That’s typical of John, because of our faith, the future is already present to us.
In ancient Israel there was no belief in life after death. After the exile, around the second century B.C.E, belief in an afterlife emerged. The book of Daniel speaks of a terrible persecution against the Jewish people and announces survival after death. So too does 2 Maccabees 7, which describes the martyrdom of seven brothers who will not renounce the Torah. In their dying they express the confidence that God will raise them up to everlasting life (7:11).
Despite these later Hebrew texts, not all Jews believed in life after death, The Gospels tell us the Sadducees did not; while the Pharisees did. In Christian preaching, afterlife and eternal life were core beliefs in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. In John’s Gospel "eternal life" is not just a promise for the future, but is now, already given to the believer. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, "… so that everyone who believes may have eternal life." Note the reference to the present; those who are baptized, "have eternal life." Later, Jesus alludes to the living water that he gives which, he says, will become "a fountain within them leaping up to provide eternal life (4:14)." So too, will those who eat the bread of life Jesus gives, "have eternal life" (6:40, 47).
Of course, Jesus’ disciples would die. That shocked some early believers who interpreted him to mean that his followers would never die. What the early church came to believe was that there was a realized aspect to eternal life (the commentators call it "realized eschatology"). The promise of eternal life would be fully realized in the future. The baptized cross over from death to life now and Jesus will raise them up on the last day.
So what does having "eternal life" mean now for the believer sitting in the pews who hear Jesus’ promise? And what about that other verse? After saying that believers will not be condemned he says, "...but whoever does not believe has already been condemned." Those sports fans holding up the "John 3:16" signs were probably hinting at that further quote. If you believe in Jesus you are saved; if you don’t, you are condemned. That’s a pretty neat package, nicely tied up, isn’t it?
It’s dangerous to take a verse out of context and build on it a theology of salvation, which passes judgment on most of the world. John’s Gospel affirms the universal salvific will of God. In another place in the Gospels (Matthew 25:31-46) the nations are gathered for the last judgment, with a division between sheep and goats. Those are blessed, or cursed, not based on their profession of faith in Jesus, but on whether they fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, comforted the sick and visited the imprisoned.
Eternal life is already manifested in the lives of believers who show, by their words and actions, that they draw their life from a different water source; receive wisdom from a new Spirit; speak words given from an eternal treasury; love their enemies driven by a loving force within them. We are called to know God as we have experienced God revealed in Jesus. We proclaim, embody and serve the kingdom he has established. That is the result of the grace we are receiving now, free and unearned from God. That is eternal life in the present.
Today’s passage is part of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus. He was a teacher and a member of the Jewish high council, the Sanhedrin. He came to Jesus at night, maybe because he didn’t want to be seen. Or, maybe the darkness symbolizes his ignorance; a teacher coming to the light, asking urgent questions. We don’t know if he ever found the light and became a disciple of Jesus – though he appears twice more in the gospel (7:50; 19:38-40).
Let’s put judgment about those who are, or not condemned, aside. We, the baptized, are the ones today’s gospel is addressing. We have the gift of eternal life now. It is the source of our discipleship and energizes our lives now. But, are we, like Nicodemus, living like people in the shadows, afraid to publicly profess our faith in Jesus Christ? Are we committed to following Jesus’ way? And is there evidence to that commitment? (You know the old saying: "If it were a crime to be a Christian, would they have any evidence to convict us?") This Lent are we resisting the difficult and costly changes we must make as believers in Christ? That’s what John means by living the truth. It’s not enough to speak and know doctrine and laws; we have to be doers of the truth.
Ephesians says we are God’s handiwork, "...created in Christ Jesus for the good work God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them." I prefer the other translation for "God’s handiwork," – we are "God’s work of art." God, the Artist, has created us to show forth the life – the eternal life – God is offering all people. Lent is a good time to ask ourselves, "How does the eternal life within me show in my words and actions?" Or, to put it more quaintly, "If it were a crime to be a Christian would they have any evidence to convict us?"
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
|[This is a prayer recited by the
whole congregation, at St. Agnes Catholic Community in San
Francisco, after the petitions at the Prayer of the Faithful at
Lord and source of all gifts, I rejoice in the fullness of your generosity. I thank you for those whose lives are visible signs of your love and blessings to others. Give me the courage to do the same. Make me a good steward of all I have received, generously sharing my time, abilities and material resources to build up your kingdom of love and justice. We ask this through Jesus Christ, in whom we begin and end all things. Amen
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.
In the footnotes of my Bible, the above passage is re-written as "Christians are a newly created people in Christ, fashioned by God for a life of goodness." Though God alone is truly good, scripture repeatedly speaks of good persons who seek to live their lives in accordance with God’s will and act to do good. It got me to thinking that if God’s love and mercy are woven into our very being through Jesus Christ, what does a life of goodness mean today?
Does it mean "I have it good and that is enough"?
Does it mean "I am a good person in my personal life and that is all that I should do"?
Does it mean "My interests to achieve a good life for myself outweigh any commitment to the greater good where I might have to set my interests aside"?
These may be questions worth pondering this Lent as we journey with Jesus to the Cross, the Jesus we profess to love.
Jesus is our example of what love and mercy in human form looks like. We can observe how he acts toward the poor and disadvantaged, as well as his responses in love for his disciples and their failings. Surely, our life of goodness woven into his should mirror his example. Each of us has been graced with gifts that are part of our goodness. Now, we need to step out in faith, out of our comfort zone, out of our box, and give our goodness to help heal the world.
We have many social justice ministries here at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral that are in need of good hands to help. Can you cook? Consider Family Promise that serve homeless families, Helen Wright Shelter meals for homeless women, or Moore Square/Oak City Outreach for those in our community that are hungry. Are you good with distribution? Catholic Parish Outreach is calling your name. How about data entry? Door Ministry is looking for additional help. Do you want to use your skills of accompaniment? Step out to help Prison Ministry, Support Circles, or Gabriel Project. Are you good with advocacy? Congregations for Social Justice and Campaign Nonviolence NC need your skills. Do you love fashion? How about Note in the Pocket and give needy kids clothes they can feel good in.
Fulfill your life of goodness and rejoice on this Laetare Sunday.
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries,
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
[Jesus said to Nicodemus]
"But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that their works may be clearly seen as done in God."
When John speaks of the truth, it is not about abstract doctrine, or book knowledge. It is not enough to speak and know doctrine and laws – we have to be doers of the truth. We have to live the truth of the gospel and witness to it in all aspects of our lives.
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
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Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736