11th March 2018
The first reading is from the last few verses of the Second Book of Chronicles (2 Chron 36:14-23 passim). History is written not just to inform us about the past but so that we can learn something for our present situation and for the future. Much of the history of the nation of the people of the bible was written in the books called Samuel and Kings, then Chronicles was written to tell the story again, all with hindsight and to teach a new lesson to match the situation at the time. At the time of writing Chronicles the people had been unfaithful to their God and His laws (and not for the first time), they had not been radically changed by the preaching of the prophets or the efforts of reforming kings; this resulted in them failing as a nation and being overrun by other powers, and then many of their aristocracy were deported and Jerusalem left to rack and ruin – the Babylonian Captivity or the Exile as it is called. But after about fifty years they were allowed back by the grace of Cyrus the ruler at the time. God restored them through an unexpected power! The reading tells the last part of this account; it makes the point that God is not just the god of the Israelites; He is the god of all peoples, and they are moved by Him when whatever they do is good and righteous – Cyrus was such an one.
The second reading is from Ephesians (2:4-10). This book seems to be an encyclical i.e. a letter to be handed around to a whole group of Christian communities; it was written in general terms about the essence of Christian belief and about living in harmony with and for each other. In some of the manuscripts that exist, it is addressed to the Laodiceans, and sometimes just to “the saints” but mostly to the Ephesians which gives it the name we use for it. As we know Paul wrote many letters to the Churches that he knew well and addressed their particular situations and problems; in this letter we have ideas that are developed from the thinking of Paul but many think that the letter was not written by him; as well as the different theology, the style of writing is somewhat different as well. Nevertheless all this does not deteriorate from the great value of our inspired reading. The passage we are looking at affirms God’s great love, even for sinners, and says we are “the work of art of God”. It is difficult for the translator to capture the full meaning of some of the key words which literally say God “makes us alive together” (συνεζωοποιησε) in Christ, and “raises us up together” (συνηγειρε), and “seats us together (συνεκαθισεω) in the heavenly (sphere) in Christ Jesus.” We are just utterly involved in the life of God because He is totally in the whole of our lives (it’s a gift from God).
In the gospel (John 3:14-21) we read words on the lips of Jesus addressed to Nicodemus. First of all a reference to the incident in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9) when Moses told the people who were ill to look towards the serpent lifted up (on a pole – a sign to be followed). So also Jesus will be lifted up (the same word is used each time), and those who believe (follow his way) will live with eternal life. It is in this section also that we have many beautiful phrases about the pattern of life we should lead and the love of God for us. This is the first time in this Gospel that the author uses the phrases “eternal life” and “lifted up” which have such a deep meaning (alluded to and expressed in the reading we had from Ephesians). The author of this Gospel uses words well; here he uses ‘light’ in a mystical, poetic but also in an ordinary sense, for shining a torch or switching on a light always reveals the reality that is there but otherwise unseen, and it is unseen because of the darkness (which is also a symbol of disbelief and wickedness). We shall use this symbol with the Easter (Pascal) candle on Holy Saturday when we celebrate the victory of Christ over sin through the fulfillment of His life on earth at His ‘passing’ (His dying and rising).