Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year B
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Mar 11 2018
Today’s Gospel contains probably the most quoted peace of scripture: the famous John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his Only-Begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I think this line is so famous because it cuts to the core of our Christion faith. We believe that God has saved us out of love and he saved us by sending his Son to pay the price for our sins, to suffer, to die, and to rise again all so that me might one day rise with him. If someone were to ask us what we believe as Christians, John 3:16 would be a good place to start.
Now I do think there is a second reason why John 3:16 is so often quoted. More than being a summary of our faith, I think it stresses the fact that everything God does for us, he does out of love. “God so loved the world” it says. God so loved the world that he sent his Son; God so loved the world that he taught us how to live; God so loved the world that he took away our sins; and God so loved that world that even when we rejected and killed his Son, he responded with the Resurrection and gave us a path to heaven. John 3:16 makes clear the truth that God is love and he cannot help but love us.
And we not only see this in John 3:16. In our first reading, from the book of Chronicals, we see in a more drawn out way how God’s love is lived out. Our first reading recounts the story of how Israel was unfaithful to God. They had turned away from him, rejected him, and went after other gods. Now God could have chosen to start over, like a writer who deletes a paragraph when the words aren’t coming out right. God could have deleted Israel and chosen a new people who would actually listen to him. But instead God does the loving thing. He calls Israel to turn from their sin and turn back to him. He sent prophets to speak in his name. They shouted at the top of their lungs, “turn back to God and he will embrace you in his tender arms.” But no one listened.
God again had been rejected, this time through his prophets. Surely God had every right to delete Israel now. They had rejected him when they did not follow his commands, and they rejected him again when they didn’t listen to his prophets. How much more would he take. But he did not give up. He kept on working with his people. And why? Because he so loved them.
This time God had a different way. Rather than calling his people he used tough love, he had to use punishment and discipline.
There is a story of a father who caught his son doing something wrong, and so he placed him over his knee and just before spanking him the father said, “Son this hurts me more than it hurts you.” And the son replied, “yea, but not in the same place.”
Tough love can hurt a parent just as much as it hurts a child. The same is true between God and Israel, but God did it because it was the only way to help his children.
So God turned to tough love. He exiled Israel from Jerusalem and forced them to live in a foreign land, Babylon. It is from this punishment that we get our Psalm, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and there we wept.” The people of Israel were treated like children who are given a timeout. They go into the corner and there they weep. But only for a time. Only once they have learned their lesson, and it took Israel 70 years. Imagine a parent waiting that long for their child to finally say they’re sorry. The patience of God is limitless.
Though he was firm, God was patient and when Israel had finally learned their lesson, he brought them out of the land of Babylon back to Jerusalem.
Like all relationships, the one between Israel and God was a turbulent one, but what God shows us through a thousand years of ups and downs is that no matter what Israel would do, he would love them. Whether it was gentle love or tough love, he would not stop loving them. And the same is true of us.
There is nothing you can do that can make God stop loving you. We can turn our back on him but he will keep his feet firmly planted where they are and his face fixed upon our back waiting for the day we will return, he’s not going anywhere. And not only that he will call to us, he will chase after us, and he may even place obstacles in our way to get us to turn back to him. And he will not stop until we do.
Today we celebrate “Letare” Sunday, a word in latin that means “rejoice”. For this reason the priest wears rose vestments. Today the Church calls each and every one of us to rejoice and it gives us good reason to. Rejoice because you are loved by God. You are loved by an infinite love that will stop at nothing to bring you to him. Though at times that love is gentle and at other time sit is tough, rejoice that you are so loved that he gave you his only Son.