I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Receiving mercy is our re-entry into God’s friendship

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The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent illustrate a simple fact: Man's best friend is God, while his two worst enemies are his own flesh and the Evil One.

God revealed to Judah a plan for its future, but the people of Judah had other plans for their happiness. "Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send His messengers to them, for He had compassion on His people and His dwelling place."

However, the Lord's people "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 other remedy."

God permitted the enemies of Judah to destroy the temple, the city walls and devastate the entire city. "Until the land has retrieved its lost Sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled."

God then encouraged Cyrus, King of Persia, to rebuild Jerusalem and encouraged the Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem, and to rebuild the temple as a place of worship.

While in exile, God patiently waited for the Israelites to wake up and take ownership of their evil deeds and repent. God's love never wavered even though their hearts strayed from God. They knew they were loved as sinners. The responsorial psalm tells us: "How could we sing a song of the Lord in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten!"

The Israelites knew that if they were going to live out God's plan for their lives, they needed help from above.

In the Gospel, Jesus hints to Nicodemus that help is on the way. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus at night so that fellow Pharisees would not see him. Basically, Nicodemus wanted to know from where Jesus was getting His teachings. Jesus responded: "No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. ...

"And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life."

Jesus shares with Nicodemus, and with us, one of the most heartwarming passages of the entire Bible: "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." Here God offers His Son on the cross for our salvation.

Jesus continues: "Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." Christ calls us to believe in Him as our savior who always desires to share His mercy in exchange for repentance.

He continues: "And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. ... But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God."

Whoever walks in darkness has no future with God, unless he allows God's word to lead him back into the light and receive God's mercy.

St. Paul, in the second reading, states: "God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ — for by grace you have been saved ... ."

Paul continues: "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. For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good deeds that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them."

Living in good deeds is our calling, and receiving mercy is our re-entry into His friendship. This is how Christ accompanies sinners. This is how we are to accompany people with whom we live and work. Christ is using our good deeds to nurture others with His love, and He also nurtures us with their good deeds.

God's mercy saves us, not our will power. Every time we sin, our ego is hurt. We may respond in one of several ways. We may begin by denying the sin. It brings us no peace. We may turn against ourselves and condemn ourselves for foolishness. That gets us nowhere. Our egos are simply hurt because we thought we could be our own saviors and avoid all sin. Sometimes we may even make the mistake of blaming God for making it so hard for us to follow His teachings, and so we tend to see God as our enemy.

These readings make it very clear that God is our best friend, because He gave us Jesus.

Let me reiterate: Man's best friend is God, and his worst enemy is his own flesh and the Evil One. God doesn't reserve heaven for the sinless, but for forgiven sinners who discovered their own personal powerlessness, and their need to rely on God's love and mercy to make it into the kingdom of Heaven.

In Lent, let's spend time reflecting on one image of the Stations of the Cross each day. Get in touch with the love that is beneath His suffering and allow Him to draw you into that love. 

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