By Father James Rodriguez
WE’VE ALL HEARD the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Today’s readings serve as a reminder of just how true this saying is. From Adam and Eve, through the Babylonian Exile, to the Crucifixion and on down to our very time, humanity’s relationship with God has been a true love story, involving people that change and a Love that does not.
We saw this Love last weekend as the Lord Jesus cleansed the Temple with all of the fury of a man defending His bride. Indeed, God has always fought for His beloved people, be they nation or Church, and so it is fitting that this weekend, so deep in the Lenten season, we hear about one of the most tragic events in Jewish history.
Less than 600 years before the birth of Christ, the people chosen by God to prepare the world for salvation found themselves in exile. They yearned for home and wrote today’s mournful Responsorial Psalm. They knew that as the second book of Chronicles tells us, “he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place,” but because of their infidelity, they turned away from Him, which invariably leads to death.
As with all of Sacred Scriptures, we must pause and ask ourselves: “What does this mean for us?” If this really is the Word of God, then it is alive and can speak to anyone, anywhere and at any time. Here we see that the story of Israel is not some ancient fairy tale or old news. It is our story. You and I are the chosen people. You and I are the messengers of God to a world in the dark. You and I are the Temple – “his dwelling place,” living Arks of the Covenant – when we receive Holy Communion. We are tabernacles and monstrances, yet if we are honest with ourselves, you and I are also often a people in self-imposed exile, yearning for home.
This is precisely why the priest and deacon are permitted to wear rose-colored vestments this Sunday. Christian joy is meant to lighten the dark sadness of our exile.
We are sinners, yet our joy points beyond this world and our weakness to a “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” (Eph 2:4-5).
This new life is as near as the nearest confessional booth, where we can be washed clean by the reconciling grace of God. We then go out into the world as lights in the darkness – as white into purple – and imitate the One whose love freed us from our bondage to sin.
Today’s Gospel begins with a reminder of the people of God looking for a place to call home. They wandered through the desert and in God’s apparent absence, began to forget His constant presence. Serpents came and bit them and Moses was charged with building a bronze serpent they would look at to be healed. By literally facing their sin, they were saved.
What does this mean for us? That ancient symbol of evil that even still inspires so much fear is nothing less than our own tendency to sin. It is always there, compelling us to trust less in God and more in our own desires; “surely you will not die,” he says again and again. We have to be vigilant to be sure, but we also look to the Christ “lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:15).
Walking in Him
The Gospel ends by reminding us that the belief in our hearts must necessarily – if it is true belief – show itself in our lives. It’s not enough to merely “talk the talk” as Christians – too many do only that – we must walk in Him who died and rose again to show us the Way.
Naturally, the next question may be, “How do I do that?” This is a simple question with answers as different as the eyes reading these words. Every life is a Word of God spoken to the world, each with a specific gift to offer – a living expression of love from the Father to the world for which He gave His Son. It is in our imitation of the Son that He speaks most clearly in us, yet this imitation has to be personal to be effective.
As vocation director, I’ve met many young men who do not feel “good enough” to be priests. I felt (and feel) the same way about myself! The glorious truth is that God calls us as we are so that, much like the bread and wine on His holy altar, we may become something different that remains the same.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent:
2 Chronicles 36: 14-16, 19-23
Psalm 137: 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Ephesians 2: 4-10
John 3: 14-21
Father James Rodriguez is the diocesan vocation director and teaches theology at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst.