Having arrived halfway our Lenten journey we are invited to review what has transpired so as to press onward on what is yet to come. The saying goes “those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it” George Santayana The Life of Reason, 1905. It is this same understanding that prompted Chronicles to lead their contemporaries through a quick overview of their past performance. At times what we shun is the very message that God sends to console us. Today the word of God reminds us to evaluate all that has been painful and contradictory in our lives.
First reading: 2Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23
The books of Chronicles written around 400 B.C recalls moments in Israel’s history sighting God’s reward for fidelity to the covenant; at the same time the tragedies that befell this holy nation ascribed to infidelity to the Decalogue. Israel had not listened to messengers God had sent to attune people to truth, justice and mercy thus suffering the consequences. The seventy years prescribed for the land to lie fallow was the length of time from the destruction of the Temple in year 586 B.C to the time when it was rebuilt and rededicated under the sponsorship of King Darius around 515 B.C. These books are an overstocked inventory of infidelity, rebellion and sin. The Church puts these texts before us so that we can recognize like in a mirror images of our personal and communal errors. God has been sending messengers to people out of his deep compassion cf. 2Chronicles 36:15. Any one with a regrettable past can discover new hope because God has not stopped loving and being merciful to sinners.
It is our corporate responsibility to understand the world in which we live. Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes asserted that it is the “duty of the church to scrutinize the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the gospel” # 3-4. For its part, the books of Chronicles tackled to the bone the times and events of its people and invited them to discern the signs of God’s continuing activity midst human visible and regrettable crisis as God’s powerful act of salvation. Chronicles attributed scolding of God’s people to sin, but also relief came as an opportunity of mercy when the same God permitted King Cyrus of Persia to defeat and conquer the vast empire of Babylon. Cyrus’ edict cited in 2Chronicles 36:23 was first quoted in the book of Ezra 1:1-3. The decree reflected an enlightened Persian policy that accommodated religious diversity. Surprisingly this decree is historically accurate; in his ingenuity about one God and clear principles of faith, Cyrus actually claimed Yahweh as God and in this way achieved the divine purpose. We too ought to be inspired in the same way to acknowledge in word and action that God is able to us any one to fulfill his divine plans.
Second reading: Ephesians 2:4-10
The second reading invites us to focus on the mystery of salvation as a gift to all sinners that has come to us shrouded in trappings of suffering hammered in the shape of a Cross. The cross is a great sign of God’s loving mercy and at the same time central to our faith. In addition to being the physical instrument of Jesus’ death; the Cross provides the answer why God is not ashamed of humanity. He is willing to do anything to save us because left to ourselves we get lost forever while carrying his wonderful image in us which is a treasure. God forgives each of us unceasingly and yet we punish the faults of others recklessly by withholding affection, holding grudges and clinging to the memories of past injuries. Whereas God is always ready to listen to us in great trials, we build silent walls of indifference that make others feel bothersome and insignificant. Although we have been taught that God’s concerns are actively directed toward the poor and abandoned, we ease our consciences by blaming them for their situation.
In this letter, St Paul describes transformation that had taken place among them because of Christ. Through grace and faith, Ephesians had become good people in whom the glory of Christ had begun to be visible. St, Paul states that, “this is not your own doing, neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished” Ephesians 2:8-9 but a gratuitous gift from Jesus to you. He went on to stress the importance of leading “a life of good deeds” Ephesians 2:10. It is those whom we tend to shun and overlook that call for our compassion. Today the word of God invites us to allow the glory of God spill over into our human experience and make us good.
Gospel: John 3:14-21
Among the ancient Greeks and Romans caduceus/loyal stick became the badge worn by heralds and ambassadors signifying their inviolability. Originally the caduceus was a rod from an olive branch decorated with wreath and ribbons. Unfortunately a serpent also found its way on this olive branch as a sign of healing because of the main role it played in the religious traditions surrounding Israelites. According to the book of Numbers 21:4-9 while wandering in Sinai desert the Hebrews were bitten by poisonous snakes. Moses instructed them to look upon the serpent entwined on the staff as he held it up and those who looked at it were healed. Following suit, St. John incorporated this event into today’s gospel and offered the raised serpent sign as a prefigurement of the lifted and crucified Christ.
The term lifted up/hypsothenai has a double meaning. In addition to referring to the hoisting of the crucified Jesus onto the gibbet in John 8:28; it also described Jesus’ resurrection from death and his exaltation in glory at God’s right hand. John also recalls Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant “See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted” Isaiah 52:13. With all these inference the mind, John assures us that those who look with faith upon the Cross of Christ would be healed of sin and delivered from death.
Even when their relationship was weak, God sent messengers early and often to the Israelites motivated by divine love. The depth and extent of that love reached its climax in Jesus. In John 3:16 which is the most quoted of all scripture verses; God gave/didonai Jesus the gift of the divine word in flesh and blood in time and space as a sacrifice on the cross. Today we are called to ponder both the message and the messenger attentively so that we can continuously encounter God’s love in his only Son. We are invited to change our ways, to listen to his voice in order to achieve salvation through forgiveness of our sins.
We need to keep memory of our passed actions so that we do not repeat the same mistakes that can separate us from God. The Cross of Jesus is the constant reminder of God’s love for us. Those who venerate the Cross will be saved by it. We need to be a people looking up to the Cross in faith love and hope so that we can encounter Jesus our source of life and salvation.