“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn.3:16). This is how Jesus describes the depth of his Father’s love for us! He is the perfect expression of that love as only through him can we fully share in it. Through Jesus, the New Israel has been expanded to include all of us who believe in him anywhere and everywhere. Jesus makes us the people of the God who never stops saving us from sin. God’s love is infinitely stronger than the love of one’s family; it is ageless and unwavering, and Scripture says: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you” (Isa 54:10; cf. 54:8).
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus unveils his Father’s love to Nicodemus. This prominent member of the community came to Jesus at night because he was afraid of criticism, being a Pharisee and, also, a member of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish ruling council most of whom were opposed to Jesus. This man’s political correctness made him a secret disciple, but he was still determined to meet Jesus. Do we sometimes feel embarrassed to acknowledge our faith in public for fear of criticism? Are we sometimes afraid to bless our food in public? Do we keep quiet in the face of injustice or other evil because we do not want to offend anyone? Do we compromise our vows and ideals for financial gain? Do we go to Church in the morning and to some other “miracle centre” in the afternoon? Let everyone do some reflection here!
In the Gospel, however, Jesus presents himself as the archetype of the bronze serpent which Moses raised in the desert such that, wounded by sin, we can always look up to him for deliverance. Jesus is the culmination of the salvation story that goes back to the Fall of Adam and Eve. Jesus the Redeemer became man because his Father so much loved the world. The Father does not want us to grope endlessly in our sins; rather, he desires to give us a share is his eternal life. God cares so much as to ransom his only Son in atonement for our sins. This is the inimitable heart of the Father of mercies who longs for communion with us.
Jesus has come that we might no longer be slaves to sin and unrighteousness; that we might rise above pettiness, gossip, envy and slander; that we might no longer be bound by old habits and attachments; that we might be reconciled with him and with one another; and that we might become people of integrity who strive to uphold always the dignity of every human person irrespective of rank or creed, gender or physique, colour or language, bank account or post code. That is what Jesus brings to us and it cannot be merited but only received. As St Pauls sees it, “it is proof of God’s own love for us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Rom.5:8).
Brothers and sisters, God’s love is free and endless, but it must be accepted for us to benefit from it. As Jesus makes clear to Nicodemus, no one who believes will be condemned but whoever refuses to believe faces condemnation. So, there is a price for sinful rebellion! This was the experience of the old Israelites who were exiled to Babylon, as we saw in the First Reading. They had been unfaithful to God, and they were conquered by their enemies, enslaved, and taken into exile. Likewise, humanity was unfaithful to God in the Garden of Eden and was overcome by the devil, who became the ruler of this fallen world. But while the Jews were in exile, God promised through his prophets that he would eventually rescue them. And this happened after 70 years when the Persian King Cyrus let them go back home and rebuild their Temple. Similarly, after the Fall, God promised to send a Saviour to humanity, and Jesus Christ is the personification of that promise!
Therefore, let us accept the Lord’s love offer today. This is what Lent is all about. God’s merciful love has no limits but there is a consequence for anyone who dies rejecting it. The Lord is a God of love and mercy but also a God of justice. We know from St Paul that where sin increased grace increased the more, but we cannot afford to “remain in sin so that grace may be given the more fully” (Rom.6:1). Rather, we must make efforts to confess our sins and be at peace with God in a life of grace. We must never take God’s merciful love for granted. As the German theologian once said: “Although God can write straight with crooked lines, no creature may write crooked lines in the book of his own life.”
Furthermore, since God’s love is boundless, we are called to imbibe the compassionate heart of the Father. We may have some people we just can’t love, or just can’t forgive because of some terrible harm done to us. We all have people we struggle to get along with; those who irritate us all the time; those who spread false rumours against us; or even those who took advantage of our childhood innocence. Perhaps we should make a list of such people and ask Jesus to help us learn how to love them. We do not need to like such people to love them, and love does not need to be pleasant because it is an act of the will, not mere emotion. In fact, there was nothing pleasant about the greatest love of all – Christ’s death on the Cross.
May the Lord help us to appreciate the depths of his love today and to extend same to our brothers and sisters. Amen!