22 March 2009 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)
2 Chr 36, 14-23; Psalm 137; Eph 2, 4-10; John 3, 14-21
Let me introduce this particular Sunday in the context of the whole Liturgical Year. In the liturgical life of the Church, the Seasons of Advent and Lent are weeks of preparation for Christmas and Easter respectively. These weeks of preparation carries with it two faces: solemn penitence and expectant joy. A deeper current of optimism, hope and newness accompanies the themes of repentance, reconciliation and transformation. Thus within Advent and Lent are “breaks from the penitential character of the seasons” --- Sundays that remind us of this gladness. These are the Gaudete Sunday for Advent, and Laetare Sunday for Lent. Both Gaudete and Laetare means to rejoice.
What is the source and reason for our rejoicing? The joy is expectant: it has not come but it is guaranteed to be fulfilled. God has promised a Savior and He will come. God has promised salvation and it will be fulfilled. Our joy is in the trust that God keeps His promises. Thus God’s promise is the source of our eager joy. In the Old Testament reading from the book of Chronicles, King Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing all exiled Jews in Babylon to return to Jerusalem. For the Jews, it was the fulfillment of Yahweh to bring them back home. And indeed it came about: in 537 BC, those who returned began to rebuild their temple, authorized by Cyrus the Great and ratified by Darius the Great. The 2nd Temple of Jerusalem was finished in 516 BC and dedicated a year after. This was the same Temple in the time of Jesus.
Moreover, the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians tells us that another source of joy is God’s mercy to us. And John’s Gospel tells us that the prime motivation of God is His profound love for us, that He truly gave His only Son for our salvation. This overflowing and extravagant love for us is God’s initiative to patch our broken relationship with Him, like a friend extending His hands in reconciliation --- even if we know the break up was actually our fault. Jesus assured us that He was not sent to condemn us, but to save us. It is to help us, not to punish us like a predator ready to pounce on us the very minute we commit a mistake. God’s mercy springs from His great love for us: this love is reason enough for us to rejoice and be glad.
But even if God extends His hands to us, it needs also our willingness to lower our pride, accept our mistakes and ask for forgiveness. Thus, we are to respond by also shaking his hand. This is the “condition” Jesus said: we are to believe that God Himself forgives us or has forgiven us already. We are to trust that God is sincerely merciful and loving. Reconciliation is the sacrament of forgiveness. But we have to come to confession as a sign that we are remorseful of the sins we committed.
God does not condemn: the very “prayers” that one says is not commensurate to the hurt that we caused another, the damage that resulted from the words we said and the acts we’ve done --- even if you were given a whole rosary. As the Parable of the Prodigal Father (prodigal means extravagant which is the love of the father to his lost son): the father has long ago forgiven his son and would wait for his return. All it needed was the return, as the act of ‘coming’ to confession. The son, who expected to be condemned and relegated to being a mere servant, was surprised: His father did not listen to his “dialogue” but restored his sonship immediately, symbolized by the new robes, the ring and the banquet.
As we continue to make Lent meaningful, we can reflect on this question. What is my attitude to my sinfulness, weakness and mistakes? Do I condemn myself? Or am I resigned to the fact that I cannot change? On the other hand, do I continually hope that I can change? When Jesus forgave our sins, He believed and hoped that we can.
We can also extend the first set of questions to others. What is my reaction to sinful people I know? Am I judgmental of them, condemning them as utterly hopeless? Or do I hope that they, like myself, can also change?