The weekend of March 14/15 is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, and there is a major theme running through each of the three Scripture readings: God’s incredible love for His people.
In the first reading, from Second Chronicles, we learn that God sent messengers and prophets “early and often” to the nation of Judah, “for He had compassion on His people.” Although they were the recipients of God’s love and care, the people often ignored the Lord. They “added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the (surrounding) nations and polluting the Lord’s temple.”
And yet, God gave them countless second chances. The history of the Old Testament can be summarized in one sentence: When the people trusted and obeyed the Lord, they were blessed, but when they ignored the Lord, they suffered greatly.
In this week’s second reading, St. Paul taught that salvation is a free, undeserved gift from God. He wrote, “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.”
We don’t deserve to be saved, but God offers salvation because of His love for us. Paul goes on to explain that believers will perform works of charity and mercy, not that anyone can “earn” salvation by good works, but simply because it’s the right this to do.
Think of it this way: if someone gives you a birthday present, do you accept it joyfully, or do you reach for your checkbook and ask, “OK, how much do I owe you?” How rude! And if the birthday present is worth $200 but you only have $50 in your checking account, this gesture is not only rude, it’s pretty stupid. Since God’s gift of salvation is priceless, how can we possibly pay for it? To think that we can “earn” our way into Heaven by our own efforts is, well, pretty stupid.
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus offers what is probably the most famous verse in the whole Bible—John 3:16—the one-sentence summary of the entire Gospel message: “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.”
God’s love for us is overwhelming and unlimited. Also, it’s remarkable that He loves us at all, since the history of mankind is a steady stream of selfishness, ingratitude, hypocrisy, cruelty, idolatry and apostasy. But God does love us. So much so, in fact, that He gave His one and only Son to pay the ultimate price for our sinfulness: Jesus, the sinless lamb, nailed to the cross as an atoning sacrifice.
The only thing we need to “do” to receive this love of God is just that: receive it. All we have to do is accept it, embrace it, and let it transform our lives. The good works surely will follow.
Jesus said “the light came into the world,” meaning the light of God’s truth and love and forgiveness. He then explained that many people “hate the light,” preferring instead the evil and wicked works of darkness.
In the last three sentences of the Gospel reading, Jesus uses the word “light” five times. When we see the light, when we acknowledge God’s truth and love and forgiveness, we are judged innocent. But if we refuse to see the light, if we ignore God’s truth and love and forgiveness, the verdict is guilty.
The light of God’s love is shining brightly in the world during this Lenten Season. Embrace it—embrace HIM—and let His love and peace and joy fill your heart.