Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Posted for March 15, 2015
The readings today are all about salvation. The extract
from the Book of Chronicles gives us an account of the
great exile known as the Babylonian Captivity that
occurred in 586 BC.
This was a most extraordinary event. After over four hundred years of rule by the descendents of King David the Kingdom of Judah was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon and the majority of the population were taken into captivity.
In many ways things in the Middle East haven’t changed that much, there have been power struggles going on there right down the ages to our own day. In the period we are thinking about the newly ascendant empire was that of Babylon. Their King, Nebuchadnezzar, was well aware of the riches owned by his weaker neighbour and soon decided to plunder Judah and enslave its inhabitants.
One sure way to keep a whole people in slavery is to destroy their hope. Since the hope of a nation is often expressed in its religion Nebuchadnezzar lost no time in destroying the Temple in Jerusalem. He was convinced that this would send the people into despair and they would become more easily manageable.
Nebuchadnezzar thought that the Israelites would conclude that their God was weak and powerless since he could not even defend his own Temple.
But, of course, the very opposite happened. The Prophet Jeremiah had foretold these events and the people came to understand that the destruction of the Temple and their enslavement was not a result of the weakness of God but due to their own infidelity. They interpreted the Captivity as appropriate punishment by God for disobeying him rather than viewing it as constituting any inadequacy on his part.
The Captivity lasted seventy years and then God moved the heart of the new ruler of Babylon, the Persian King Cyrus, to release them and to rebuild the Temple.
This must have seemed quite incredible to the People of Israel. They had been lamenting their lot in Babylon as is so eloquently expressed in the Psalm given to us today. And then this new pagan king suddenly expresses his belief in their God and says that he has been instructed by him to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
This was surely a most extraordinary miracle and a profound vindication of the God of their fathers; a faith strengthened and renewed rather than extinguished by seventy long years of captivity.
Just imagine their rejoicing as they returned home to freedom. This can only be described as a profound experience of salvation.
We should remember that this wasn’t the first time that the People of Israel had experienced captivity and exile. You will remember the Exile into Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs and how Moses led the Chosen People through the Red Sea and then through forty years in the desert until they reached the Promised Land of Canaan.
These experiences of salvation were deeply ingrained in the history and culture of Israel. You could not think of a better way of preparing a race of people for the definitive saving event of all time –the salvation won by Jesus Christ.
The only trouble with us humans is that we have a tendency to forget. We continually forget even the most important lessons in life. And, as a people, the Jews were no different in that they continually forgot the lessons of the deepest experiences they had collectively endured.
Jesus explains this to Nicodemus. He tells him how what Moses achieved was going to happen once again but in a greater and more definitive way.
This time there would be no exile into slavery, no journey through the desert, no glorious entry into the Promised Land. There would be no captivity in Babylon, no sudden change of heart by a pagan Emperor.
No, this time the circumstances would be almost banal. A squalid betrayal by a once loyal brother, an arrest in a garden in the middle of the night, a trumped up trial, the exchange of his life for that of a rebel and the crucifixion by the Romans on behalf of a corrupt Jewish priesthood.
What we have been speaking about is mostly the memory of things long past but we know that there are different kinds of memory. We are all familiar with short-term memory. We remember where we left our car in the supermarket car park. But we don’t retain this information for long otherwise our minds would be clogged up with a lot of unnecessary data.
Then there is long-term memory. This is more difficult; we often remember scenes from our childhood or significant events. Sometimes events flood unbidden into our minds, things that we thought were long forgotten.
And there is collective memory. This is the memory of a whole nation or community. It is about the significance of their history. A good example would be the memory of the holocaust for the Jews of today, and indeed also in an opposite way for the German nation. Keeping these events alive is important in order to maintain the identity of the community concerned.
The events of the Exodus and the Captivity have been highly significant for the Jews down through the ages. They were demonstrations of their chosenness by God which was precisely what they considered made them different from all the other nations of the earth.
These were extremely strong experiences of salvation which affected a whole people for many generations. They were powerful demonstrations of God’s love despite the infidelity of a considerable proportion of the nation.
And yet, by the time of Jesus, these things were being forgotten. The priests especially were caught up in a highly clerical religion which exploited the people and which ensured places of privilege from themselves. This was accompanied by highly inappropriate collusion between them and the Roman invaders.
Jesus tells Nicodemus what is about to happen. He reveals to this important member of the Jewish hierarchy that God is now going to intervene in a most spectacular way and is going to definitively bring about salvation not merely for the Jewish people but for the whole human race.
Memory remains important, because it is our collective memory which communicates this extraordinary intervention of God in the history of the world to future generations.
We keep this memory fresh by constantly reading the scriptures and by gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist each week. These are the means by which the Good News of the Kingdom is kept alive in the world today.
In the words of consecration Our Lord says: Do this in memory of me. It is his memory we keep alive, it is his salvation that we celebrate, it is his Kingdom that we look forward to so much.
Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
March 15, 2015
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B—March 15, 2015
Once, in Israel’s wilderness wanderings, Moses put a bronze serpent on a pole and lifted it up for the healing of God’s people. Why does Jesus compare Himself to that serpent?
Gospel (Read Jn 3:14-21)
Today, we read the last part of a conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had come to Him at night to talk. Most Pharisees were suspicious and contemptuous of Jesus, but not Nicodemus. He recognized Him as “a teacher from God” because of the miraculous works He did (see Jn 3:2). Jesus understood right away what this man was looking for, so He began a discussion with him about the need to be “born anew” to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3). This completely baffled Nicodemus, of course, because he knew a person cannot re-enter the womb for a second birth. Jesus pressed the point: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). When Nicodemus continued to struggle with this idea, it was Jesus’ turn to be baffled: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?” (Jn 3:10)
Fourth Sunday of Lent: We Are God’s Work of Art
I was blessed as a child to be exposed to good art. My Mom worked for a book distributer who dealt with Harry N. Abrams among other publishers. Abrams was then and still remains one of the main publishers of books on art and artists. When I went to high school, I took a course on art appreciation and as part of the class went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where I still hold a membership.
The Trinity: Source of All Mysteries
The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is, as stated in the General Catechetical Directory, “the most fundamental and essential teaching in the hierarchy of the truths of faith.” The unfathomable nature of the Trinity beckons us to the highest reaches of the human intellect and beyond to that real understanding only possible by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and even then at best we will bask in what remains a glorious mystery. In paragraph 234 of the Catechism we are instructed that “the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.” To know with our hearts what has been revealed to us about the Most Holy Trinity, we must commit to arduous intellectual work which is best carried out with the help of a learned tutor.
The Gravity of the Father’s Love in Heaven and on Earth
The Lord taught us to call on our heavenly Father not because God is distant or inaccessible, but because the Father is awaiting for us with love. This means that heaven is near and dawning on us even now. This means that we are the objects of a particular joy, a special and un-repeatable delight that has lived in the Heart of God from the beginning. He respects our freedom but no power from above or below can thwart the hidden purpose of His exceeding love. He is making His will on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Jesus, Mary, and the Saints
I would like to present to you in a few words five of the most beautiful jewels in the heart of Mary: her simplicity, her abandonment, her love for the Cross, her thirst for souls, and her love.
The Gospel tells us nothing about the childhood of Mary. It seems that God willed jealously to hide this diamond of greatest beauty. And Mary, all her life, kept her love of reticence, of self-effacement, of the hidden life, under the veil of simplicity, like a marvelous treasure.
How did Saint Thérèse Conquer Satan and Attain Perfection?
There is a story from the Early Church Fathers that relates how a monk was slapped on the cheek by a young girl possessed by a demon. The monk in turn simply turned his other cheek in obedience to the Lord’s command. The demon could not take it and immediately left the girl. Those who witnessed what happened said, “The pride of demons must fall before humble obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ.” (Manual for Spiritual Warfare, 181)