Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY LENT,

MARCH 30

2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23; Psalm 137;

Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

OUR GOOD NEWS: Mid-Lenten repentance means turning from half- to whole-hearted living of the Kingdom, already ours because of Jesus' death and resurrection. Awareness that sin alienates from God and from his blessings (first reading) requires qualification because of what Jesus did and does for us. Divine "favor" longed for in Old Testament times has twofold significance for us Christians. On the one hand it's something we already enjoy. Once "dead in sin," at our baptism we "have been saved - an act completed in the past (Greek perfect participle). We are already "brought to (eternal) life," already ("raised up, and even now) given a place in the heavens." As Lord of history, God is interested in saving, not punishing, making everything - human sinfulness, the rise and fall of nations and peoples - serve His redemptive needs. During Lent we don't relive an "exile" of abandonment by God. Quite the opposite! Salvation isn't something we do - we don't make reparation for sin, satisfying demands of divine justice, placating anger. It comes as purest gift or grace from our God who is "rich in mercy" - quite unexpected, undeserved, unearned. In this sense Easter is a past event for Jesus as well as for us. It is not His triumph merely but ours as well, and right now. On the other hand, fullness of God's "favor" will only be displayed in the future. Until then, the inevitable incompleteness of union with God demands constant effort at improvement, especially during Lent. Paul wanted one thing clearly understood. Through long years of slavery in Egypt and later in Babylonia, Israel has no claim whatsoever on deliverance by God, only getting what she deserved. But once gifted with the land of promise, "the Chosen People" were expected to demonstrate fidelity through Godlike living. So, too, the Christian community. Having received fulfillment of the promised Kingdom, we responded by "leading the life of good deeds." This is God's will for us and our way of saying thanks. To a certain extent we Christians are already an Easter people, sharing Jesus' resurrected triumph, enjoying fulfillment of Old Testament promises. We show appreciation and gratitude for this undeserved good fortune through lives of practical concern for others. Note that we don't earn God's forgiveness and love through our own virtuous acts. This singular salvific act was Jesus' alone, and we can only rejoice in His singular blessing. We are good, not in order to earn salvation and be saved. We are good because we have been saved. Jesus' death and resurrection has become the central moment and turning point in cosmic history, His and His Father's triumph over destructive evil forces. Lent now takes on new urgency, being called from uncommitted unbelief, like Nicodemus, to lives rich with grace-empowered service, "doing the truth" we profess.

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