4th Sunday of Lent: 14 March 2021
1. Faith heals you
Faith is a very significant and dominant theme in Chrisitan spirituality either in theory or in practice. "Faith has set you free", "faith has healed you" Jesus would extol the person when he or she sought his healing and liberation. The history of salvation which begins with the Father of Faith Abraham is nothing but a journey of faith (Genesis chapter 12). For St Paul too faith is a pillar on which his whole corpus of writings is situated and founded.
As Christians faith is in our DNA. If that isn't then something is wrong with us. If God has created us and brought us forth into this world, doesn't it mean that he has not given us the possibility of confiding in Him? St Thomas Aquinas would say God is presence, power and essence. God's presence in our midst should allow us to feel for Him. In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks powerfully of the generous, self-giving love of God. It is a gospel that assures us of God’s care for the world, for each of us as his sons and daughters.
St John the Evangelist says: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). Three words in that sentence are crucial: love, give, life. God loved...so God gave ... that we might live. Each word has significant meanings. For we are his [i.e. God’s] handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance that we should live in them.
The book of chronicles narrates beautifully in today's reading how God rescued his chosen people in spite of their going away from him. It says: "for he had compassion on his people and His dwelling place" (2 Chr 36: 15). God hears the cry of the Israelites who are in despair. The caricature of His people in agony is astounding. It says, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me" (Isaiah 49:14). The God who is compassionate and abounding in love has nothing else to give except his unconditional love with these unforgettable phrases:
Can a woman forget her sucking child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands. (Isa 49: 15-16)
The Psalmist sings so beautifully...
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love...
He does not deal with us according to our sins,nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Ps 103:8, 10)
However, a question remains to be asked whether a person is able to embrace that love of God. Only a person who has experienced love is able to give that love to others. Jesus is the person who experienced His Father's love. Therefore, Jesus could give us that love which, is experienced by himself in the first place.
II. God's intervenes even in despair
The story of God's intervention through a pagan or a non-Jewish king Cyrus king of Persia is astonishing. If God wants he can speak to anyone even to those who are not in his immediate list. When king Cyrus hears the voice of God, he quickly puts it into action and the temple of Jerusalem was erected with all its glory and majesty. The graciousness of the king was so great that the people of the temple could once again gather together in faith and in worship. Their resolve to unity and solidarity in those times of Babylonian captivity brought a new vision of life to them. God did not leave Israel in exile, and He does not want to leave any of us dead in our transgressions. We are God’s handiwork, saved to live as His people in the light of His truth.
The lesson the Israelites learn a number of them. The wind blows where it wills. God works where he wants. God's readiness to build something goes beyond human understanding or knowledge. God's ways are not our ways. Even in the desert, God knows how to create oases or springs of water. God had a purpose in his resolve to solve the problems of captive Israelites. Now they begin to wonder that even in distress God is always present. He has not said no to their plea. God is a God of life and love, presence and power. Christ is the visibility of God. In Christ, God’s power to heal and redeem has been made manifest on the public stage.
III. Love must fill the empty spaces
"Love is the secret of Christian life. Love alone can fill the empty spaces of our life" said Pope Francis recently. For a Christian, a selfless love based on agapeic love which the New Testament speaks of and is a precondition to be called a disciple of Christ. True Christian love is not simply based on feelings towards the other but an authentic concern and the welfare of the other. “Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words,” writes St Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises . A love that can go beyond the empty words and feelings and see its realization concretely and solidly in actions has a meaning. God did not just feel for his people but worked for their welfare by giving them what they really deserve. Jesus’ answers reveal to us some insight into God’s priorities. God wants us to concentrate on these two tasks more than any other: loving God and loving those around us. It is worth mentioning that by saying, “as yourself,” Jesus also expects us to love ourselves. In our brokenness and possibly our humility we may feel guilty when we try to love ourselves. Jesus clearly implies the contrary intimating that we cannot love others unless we love ourselves first. And God loves us unconditionally even in our brokenness.
Today we have the opportunity to thank all the people in our lives who care for us, who show us kindness and compassion. At the beginning of this week on March 8th world celebrated the day of women. Our life on earth is possible because of our moms. Our mothers carried us in their wombs and brought us forth into this world. Such an act of love is possible only in a woman. Midway through this season of repentance, let us again make a resolution to be part of God's life with deep faith and conviction that He will save us now and forever. Because with St Paul may we be convinced, "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8).
Questions for reflections:
1. What image of God comes to mind as you picture what the Ephesians are told of God who is rich in love? Can you think of a time when you have experienced this love?
2. We are what God has made us; loved even when we were dead in our trespasses, saved by grace, raised up to be with Jesus Christ in the heavenly places. What stirs in you when you hear this?
3. We hear that we have been created in Christ Jesus for good works. What might these good works be for you today? Imagine holding these in your hands as a gift to the God who is rich in love.
Loving God, I give you thanks for your nurturing love and for all who care for me, who have encouraged me and helped me to grow. Dear Lord, forgive me that I turn my eyes away from you towards the things of this world. I am sorry for the fantasies that I so desperately cling to in order to sustain my ego, my pride, my selfishness. Take them away by your marvellous power, oh Holy Spirit, that I might serve you and my fellow brothers and sisters rather than my sinful self. Help me to recognize that only you can truly save me. Let me see myself through your eyes and know that my glory, peace, and salvation come from you alone. We make this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
12 March 2021