Home » Gospel Encouragement – 14th March 2021 – 4th Sunday of Lent

Gospel Encouragement – 14th March 2021 – 4th Sunday of Lent

Dear sisters and brothers,

When I was growing up there were times when I would lie to get my own way.  Maybe we all did at some point.  At least, I hope it wasn’t just me.  My parents and my teachers imposed discipline on me, both for my own safety and so that I would learn right from wrong; I just didn’t realise it at the time.  I remember being at secondary school: we were allowed to go to the shops at lunch time with permission from a teacher.  I asked one teacher, who said ‘no’, and then went to another, who said ‘yes’.  The second teacher’s ‘yes’ justified my freedom to go as far as I was concerned, but of course I was playing games to get my own way and inevitably my game playing was discovered, and I was punished.

This child to parent/teacher relationship – or disciple to master relationship, which we use to make it sound grown up – is really the story of the Bible, and of each of us, as God, our parent and teacher and master tries to teach us constantly, but we, equally as constantly, rebel and try to get our own way.

Today’s first reading is a great summary of how the people of Israel had done just that for about 1,000 years and had now been overthrown by a foreign power and were in exile.  However, the reading also gives them hope.  They are about to be released, and as part of their release they are being allowed to rebuild the Temple and to start to worship God again.  You’d think, based on this, and on the psalm that we heard from their exile – where they sing with longing of returning to worship God – that that’s exactly what they would do; and they do to begin with.  But very quickly they forget that they got themselves into trouble when they ignored God’s guidance before and go their own way once again.  They know the truth, but they ignore it, and it’s this choice to ignore God’s guidance, to refuse to acknowledge God as parent, teacher and master, that leads to the condemnation that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel – just as I was caught out by my manipulation of my teachers.

As Jesus says in those few lines that, in some senses, summarise the entirety of the Gospels:

“God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost

but may have eternal life.

For God sent his Son into the world

not to condemn the world,

but so that through him the world might be saved.”

Sometimes we can’t fathom this.  How does this work?  If God doesn’t condemn us, how can we be condemned?  It’s such a strong and harsh word after all!!!  The answer lies two lines further on, which we sometimes don’t hear, because we are so concerned by already feeling condemned:

“…whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,

because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.”

What does this mean?  It means that God doesn’t condemn us, but that we condemn ourselves whenever we rebel against God – or in my example, attempt to manipulate situations for my own ends; when we choose to go our own way, when we harden our hearts against his good will for us.  Remember, he is the perfect parent, teacher and master who seeks to discipline and disciple us in love, because he knows the way to live that is best for us far better than we know it ourselves.  Our self-condemnation is lifted when we stop walking away from him, playing games to accommodate our choices, and turn to walk towards him: that’s what the word ‘repent’ means – to turn around – and that’s what this season of Lent gives us the opportunity to think about in a more focused way.  Turn back and look at the God who loves us, at the face of Jesus on the Cross as he says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

When we do that we walk away from condemnation into liberation.  Living the truth leads us into freedom!  And as St Paul reminds us in the second reading, we do this by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit of the Father and of Jesus that prompts us to recognise the truth, to see the flaws in our actions and choices, and who gives us the strength to choose to turn around.  In cooperating with him, we tap into his wisdom and decide to turn around, to repent, to walk in the ways of the Lord rather than our own ways.  This action of the Holy Spirit in our lives is grace: he comes to us in our hearts and hopefully we respond.

So, as Jesus concludes today’s Gospel, let’s choose to come into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what we do – the way we live our lives as disciples of this perfect parent, teacher and master – is done in God.

With every blessing,

Simon