Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 14, 2021 Cycle B
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
Sunday Reading Meditations
God loves the world and his mercy is infinite. In the second reading, Saint Paul says: “God, who is rich in mercy […] brought us to life with Christ” (Eph 2:4–5). In the Gospel, Jesus declares: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him […] might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
However, the first reading talks about “the anger of the Lord” (2 Chr 36:16) and in the Gospel, Jesus talks about condemnation (cf. Jn 3:17–19). How is it possible to reconcile God’s mercy with his anger? Is this not a contradiction?
Many people think that heaven has already been achieved. There are also many people that think that hell does not exist. Accordingly, God is good, so it is impossible for him to condemn anyone. The logical consequence is to live anyway we want. Any behavior can be justified. No one has the right to say what is right or wrong. And if someone has the courage to disagree, he risks crucifixion in the public arena.
Today’s readings proclaim the opposite. The people of God were unfaithful to the covenant. They had forgotten their Creator and Savior. God sent them his messengers and prophets, trying to convince them to come back to him. Instead, “they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets” (2 Chr 36:16). That was when the anger of the Lord became inflamed against his people, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians and the people were killed or deported to Babylon. They would stay there for 70 years, until the reign of Cyrus, king of Persia, who allowed the Israelites to relive the exodus of liberation to the Promised Land.
In this reading, we understand that it is not the same thing to sin or not sin, to be faithful or unfaithful. There are consequences: if we live far from God, we will sooner or later receive retribution. Our acts are really important! However, the anger of God is the way that led the chosen people to be purified of their sins. Through the anger of the Lord, they had the opportunity to repossess their lost land.
In the Gospel, Jesus says that there is condemnation. However, God does not condemn anyone. There is a choice between light and darkness. Condemnation is the human refusal of God’s love. Jesus wants to give us eternal life. He died on the cross for that. He gave himself to you and me in order to give us the joy that he lives with the Father. Without our freedom, without our choosing the Lord, it is impossible to be saved. If we did not have our freedom, salvation would be imposed upon us without our consent.
The anger of the Lord is divine love refused by human freedom. The refusal of God’s love is terrible. It is a contradiction of what we are. It is the real destruction of our humanity. It is damnation.
We understand what the anger of the Lord is when we look at Jesus crucified. He suffered the punishment in his flesh that we should have received. In him, the anger of the Lord actually becomes the way for a new life.
During Lent, let us contemplate Jesus on the cross! Let us find the supreme sign of God’s mercy in Jesus crucified! Amen.