Jesus Invites Us To Share In The Good News

Jesus’ Mercy Endures Forever

Easter: Celebrating the Gift of Life!

Opening Our Hearts to Receive Jesus’ Mercy

Everything We Need Is Found In Jesus’ Love

God’s Faithfulness Is Beyond Our Understanding

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Fourth Sunday of Lent)

Jesus says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) The movement from death to life of which Jesus speaks is preceded by the movement from life to death.

Genesis recalls the wonder, beauty and awe of creation. The culmination of God’s creative activity was man, male and female, who were created in the image and likeness of God. The image was stained as man turned from God at the lure of the Tempter. Once sin enters the picture, so too does death. As sin increases, life is drained (expressed through life-spans getting shorter and shorter). The symbolism is real. Sin robs us of life because it distances us from God, the source and sustainer of life. This is the movement from life to death.

God, however, is not satisfied with human self-destruction. He reaches out to man and calls him back, to turn-around, to look upon Him, to accept His love. Man’s response is real but imperfect; there is always something lacking. Take for example the great event of Israel’s deliverance. God frees Israel from a life of slavery, persecution and hardship in Egypt. Yet when Moses is on Sinai, the people grow impatient and turn away from the God who saves to make an idol of silver and gold; a lifeless statue. God, the patient one, does not abandon His people but continues to call them to faithfulness.

Another instance in the life of Israel, perhaps the most traumatic since their slavery in Egypt, was the Babylonian Exile. Prior to exile, the Babylonians conquered Judah, ransacked, looted and destroyed the Temple and the Holy City Jerusalem (587 BC). Psalm 137 (responsorial psalm) recalls voices the heart-break of the exiled Judeans in Babylon.

By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked of us
the lyrics of our songs,
And our despoilers urged us to be joyous:
“Sing for us the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!
May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I remember you not,
If I place not Jerusalem
ahead of my joy.

Once again God hears the pleas of His sinful people. The passage from II Chronicles, which serves as the first reading, recalls the period prior to exile. The situation was bad. The Chronicler writes: “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.”

The author further recalls that God had compassion on his people and sent messengers, prophets, to call them back. “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.” Hence their sin led to destruction and death. But God, the all-merciful and patient, heard their cries in Babylon. He used Cyrus, King of Persia to conquer the Babylonians and to send the Israelites back to the Promised Land to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.

The movement for man from life to death is dramatically reversed by Jesus, Son of God and Son of Adam. Jesus not only speaks of the movement from death to life, he takes on death and, in His resurrection, manifests the transformation.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus applies the image of the serpent being “lifted up” in the desert to Himself. You may recall that powerful story of God’s mercy. While wandering in the desert, the people grossly sinned, again, grumbling against God and Moses. As a punishment, serpents were sent into the camp. Many people were bit and died. Then people came to Moses with contrite hearts and said: “We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord to take the serpents from us.” (Numbers 21:7) God then told Moses to mount a bronze serpent on a pole and hold it up. Then, when anyone who had been bitten looked on it, they were saved.

Jesus takes this image to Himself and foreshadows the Cross. He, not a bronze serpent this time, will be “lifted up;” not on a pole but the cross. The life provided will not be temporary, but eternal. Jesus, then, speaks those famous words that summarize His mission of mercy. “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.” (John 3:16-17)

Saint Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians reflects on the movement from death to life for us and all who place their faith in Christ Jesus. He says that “even when we were dead in our transgressions,” God “who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us….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.” Jesus’ victory is for eternity. It is the perfect victory, the victory of mercy over sin, of life over death. It is in His victory that he conveys forgiveness of sins; so that when we fall or turn away; he is always ready to receive us back, to forgive and to cleanse us with His all-powerful grace.

The movement through Lent leads us to Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. The journey helps prepare us to renew our baptismal promises, our profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the One who was lifted up, the one who is risen from the dead. At the Vigil, catechumens in our parishes and all around the world, will be baptized in to Christ’s death and thus obtain a share in His Resurrection they will pass from death to life. Our thanksgiving will resound in song, prayer and festivity. As these days go by, we recognize our sins, express our contrition and avail ourselves of His mercy bolstered, motivated and inspired by Him who says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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