FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT – APRIL 2, 2000 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
All three biblical readings today are powerful, able to move us to think, to consider where we fit in them, how they might illumine our lives, how they might show us a way beyond where we are. Let me take a single thought from each of them.
The first reading is a concentrated story of the destruction of Jerusalem, the leveling of the Temple, the exile of Israel to Babylon, and then of the restoration of the homeland when King Cyrus comes to power. It is accompanied by what is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible, the lament of exiled Israel by the streams of Babylon, unable to sing a song of Zion there, weeping at t he memory of Jerusalem, unable to forget her. It is perhaps offered for us as a metaphor of the experience of alienation from our true self in which sin consists. St. Augustine spoke of our living in a regio dissimilitudinis, a region of strangeness, of not being at home until we are in God’s good graces again, for made in the image of God, we are not at home except in him. Alienated from him we are in exile from our true selves. Perhaps we have all had, perhaps some of us now have, this experience. If so, Cyrus’s joyful announcement that Israel may return home becomes the metaphor of what God offers us in this Lent.
The passage from the Fourth Gospel makes use of the metaphor of darkness and light, so prominent in this Gospel, so important a part of the symbolism of Lent and Easter. The Evangelist says that Jesus was sent not to condemn the world but to save it, but that although judgment was not his purpose, judgment is often the result, only it is not he who passes the verdict. “This is the verdict: that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light because their works were evil.” Jesus Christ brings an uncomfortably bright light upon us, one which reveals ourselves to ourselves, and it is not rare that those unwilling to look at the truth of themselves will flee the light or, even worse, claim that they do not need it. Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus pronounces one of his most terrifying judgments when he says of those who resist him: “You are the blind ones, never more blind because you think that you can see.” How terrible a fate–not to know that you are blind! Lent is a time for opening our eyes and coming to the light.
St. Paul has his own encapsulated summary of the work of Christ in our second reading. What happened in Christ happened not only in him but in us: even when we were dead in our transgressions we were brought to life with Christ, raised up with him, seated with him at the Father’s right hand. Words that describe our condition even now, meant to prepare us for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ during Holy Week not as something that happened long ago, and to someone else, but as the mystery of our own lives, rescue from the grave of our sins, a new, risen life with him even now, in God. And none of this our work: who can raise himself from the dead? It is all the work of God, his new creation in Christ. A splendid assurance! We have available to us the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and if in him death can be conquered, what force can any lesser evil have?
Three symbols then–exile, blindness, death–which we might reflect on to see whether any one of them today particularly describes our own condition, not, of course, so that we may wallow in it, but because to each of the symbols comes the promise of the grace in which the Gospel enables us to stand: the grace of homecoming from exile, the grace of light for our blindness, the grace of new life out of the grave of our sins.