22 March: Fourth Sunday of Lent Year B
Readings: 2 Chr 36:14-17, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21
This fourth Sunday of Lent is traditionally referred to as “Laetare Sunday”. On this Sunday, the austerity of Lent is briefly lessened. We hear the Entrance Antiphon from Isaiah, "Rejoice with Jerusalem...and be glad...exult, exult with her all you who were mourning” (Is. 66:10)." The purple vestments and altar cloths of Lent are set aside, and (where available) rose vestments are used instead. Flowers, which are normally forbidden during Lent, may be placed near the altar or in the sanctuary. That is why readings of this Sunday proclaim the joy of our faith in God's loving mercy and forgiveness because our exile from sin is about to end. While the first reading focuses on God who punishes our sins in exile, it also proclaims God who extends undeserved mercy and forgiveness. To underline that theme the write of Chronicles shows how God uses a pagan leader, King Cyrus of Persia, to free the Israelites and let them return to Jerusalem. Just as God extends his merciful forgiveness to the Israelites, so too as Paul affirms in the second reading, does God bring us from our sinful death into a new life in Christ. The underlying message in the first and second readings is conversion of heart that opens the door to receive God's free gift of grace.
The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in the Gospel, leads us into the mystery of the cross summed up in the words of Jesus. "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 be saved through him.” By our sins we had been exiled from God's kingdom. In the nocturnal conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus, we realize that all we need to do to discover God's love for us, is to get into the light of day and look at Jesus hanging on the cross. It is here that we discover the mystery of the cross, in which God's love for us is revealed. Just as looking at the bronze serpent brought healing to the Israelites bitten by the serpents in the desert, so too looking at Jesus hanging on the cross would bring new life to us. That is what Jesus promised Nicodemus. All those who look up to Jesus in faith will be saved, will receive life that never can be taken away. The Gospel emphasizes that God sent his Son to save us and to show us the way, the truth and the life so we may walk in the Light, for Jesus is the Light, the only way; the only Truth and the only Life! In the passion, death on the cross and resurrection there is good news of joy and so we have reason to celebrate this Sunday. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings of this Sunday proclaim our faith in God's loving mercy and forgiveness because our exile from sin is about to end; 2) God’s free gift of grace brings us from our sinful death into new life in Christ; 3) Jesus leads us like Nicodemus from the darkness of our sins to enter into the light of being healed as look at the mystery of his death on the cross and his resurrection.
©2009 John M. Mbinda