Readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent: 2 Chr 36:14-16,19-23; Ps 137:1-6; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21 (if you hear different readings, your parish may be using the Year A readings that go with the Scrutinies for RCIA)
The honeymoon didn’t last long.
In fact, it hadn’t even started. The people were still wearing their wedding clothes, for crying out loud; God was giving Moses the blueprints for the tabernacle so He’d have a place to live among them — but they couldn’t wait to party. “We don’t know what happened to Moses,” they said to Aaron. “Make us a god to be our leader” (see Exodus 32).
That incident of the golden calf, coming so close upon Israel’s rescue from Egypt and God’s declaration of love, set the pattern for the on-again, off-again relationship they had with the Lord for the next 750 years. The first reading this Sunday, which is taken from the last chapter in the Hebrew Bible, 2 Chronicles 36, sums up that entire history in a few verses: God lives among them; they pollute his house. God loves them; they are unfaithful. God sends messengers to them; the people mock and despise them “till there was no remedy.”
His suit rejected, God gives them up to their enemies. The Babylonians decimate Judah. They destroy Jerusalem and the Temple and take the people into captivity.
It’s depressing. They had such promise! Not to mention the help and presence of God himself who has been more than patient with them. Reading through the Old Testament, it’s easy to pass judgment. But we aren’t so different from Israel, picking and choosing the commands we’ll obey, sacrificing time with God to do what we want. How often do warnings come, like they did to Israel, and we ignore them? What if our relationship with God — our salvation, if you will — depended on our efforts alone?
Thank God it does not. Neither does 2 Chronicles 36 leave the people there, in captivity and estranged from God’s promise. After 70 years, as he promised Jeremiah, God charges King Cyrus of Persia to rebuild His temple in Jerusalem — and best of all, he inspires the king to send the people back. Thus the Hebrew Bible ends on a high note: Cyrus says of any Israelite who will return to Jerusalem, “Let him go up, and may his God be with him!”
What kind of love is this, that keeps on loving no matter what, that powers through infidelity and loss and rejection and pain to “be with” those who are loved?
It is the merciful love of our God.
In Israel’s story, we see lived out the truth that the NT and Gospel readings for this Sunday proclaim: God is rich in mercy. In the New Covenant as in the Old, salvation is a gift of grace (Eph 2:4). God sent his son not to condemn us (much as we might deserve it!) but that we might be saved through him (Jn 3:17). Even when we are hopelessly lost, when we stray beyond the breaking point as Israel did: It is God who takes the initiative and makes a way to return.
All of this is a terrific reason to rejoice, and that is what we shall do! The fourth Sunday of Lent, like the third Sunday of Advent, marks a break in the penitential season. Vestments will be rose-colored, and there may be flowers on the altar. “Laetare Sunday” is named for the opening words of the Entrance Antiphon in the Mass: Rejoice [“Laetare”], Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning: exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.
It seems fitting to close with the collect:
O God, who through your Word reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way, grant, we pray, that with prompt devotion and eager faith the Christian people may hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
© 2015, 2021 Sarah Christmyer.
This was previously published March 11, 2015, on this site.
+ + + + + + +
What have you learned from this series, or how has it struck you? I’d love to hear from you below (or email me at Sarah@ComeIntotheWord.com). Bless you!
Read about this series here: Lent, Year B: GOD HAS A PLAN!
Coming next: 5th Sunday of Lent: ANNOUNCING THE NEW COVENANT
+ + + + + + +
Take Scripture into your week during Lent with this free Monday-Friday reading plan for Year B (2015, 2018, 2021…): Download 40 Days in the Bible-Yr B.