Are You Listening?
By Fr. Robert J. Carr
Homily for the 4th Sunday in Lent Year B
One of the rules of the Sunday readings is that usually the first reading and the Gospel share a connection. Now that is there, but not to the level that is usually the case. Indeed, when I read the first reading (2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23), I suspected the gospel was going to be completely different, but in fact was surprised to find this gospel reading: John 3:16ff.
Well let us look at the first reading and the gospel.
THE BABYLONIAN EXILE
The first reading from Chronicles gives us a thumbnail sketch of one of the key periods in the history of the Jewish people. It is called the Babylonian Exile. The time begins at 587 B.C. during the life of Jeremiah the prophet. He had been warning the Jews that they had turned from God and because of that they were walking down the day to disaster. They did not listen. They disregarded his message and they persecuted him in an attempt to silence him. They never listened. Then in 587 BC, the Babylonians, which would be what is today in modern day Iraq about fifty miles south of Baghdad, came and took over the city. They destroyed the temple, blinded the king of Jerusalem and carried him and so many others off to Babylon into slavery.
We are reminded why this happened: "they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy." (2 Chr 36:16) This is a rather ominous warning. The people had become so evil that there was no turning back.
This exile lasted forty years and then King Cyrus of Persia invaded Babylon, took it over and sent the Jews home. He helped them rebuild their temple and their country. One of the principles of the bible is that God destroys a city only if the city has become so evil that to not destroy it would perpetuate the evil. This explains why the Babylonian Exile. To be sure there was a movement to prevent this and to lead the people back to God before the Exile, but it was too little, too late.
We see this in the background and now move to the gospel.
It would seem that this is completely unrelated to what we read in Chronicles. However, let’s take a closer look.
First, I know I say this in virtually every homily. I will say it again. In the background is something that Jesus knows but those to whom he is speaking do not. What happened at the Babylonian Exile is about to happen again. In about 40 years the Roman Soldiers will do to Jerusalem what the Babylonians did to the city in 587 B.C. This time, however, the temple will be destroyed and to this day it has not been rebuilt. This is because Jesus is now the temple. He is the holy of holies and he is the tabernacle.
What Jesus says is one of the most famous words of the bible. For God so loved the world that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life. This is the famous verse of John 3:16. However, in a society that does not recognize or understand the importance of those words, this powerful promise is meaningless.
AND WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH A MILLION DOLLARS, MISTER?
What Jesus promises here is eternal life. However, what do you do if you live in a society that does not care about that promise, or for that matter outright rejects it? Then this promise is nothing. It is like giving a million dollars to a billionaire. What is he going to do with a million dollars? It is pittance compared to what he has and he ultimately does not need it.
DEATH AROUND US
This is the problem when we have those words in a society that completely dismisses the promise. Either there is no focus on death or there is a trivializing of life in light of death.
In other societies this is not the case. You may have heard on the news about the bus that fell over a cliff in Chile. This kind of accident is common in the Andes. We do not hear of them so much up here, but it happened at least one time during the summer I spent in Ecuador on my second trip there. I bring that up for a reason. When I was in Ecuador death was always staring us in the face. I was in a place that reminded me a lot of the movies from the old west complete with cowboys on horseback.
We were surrounded by cholera, by various insects common in the tropics. One American warned us about some bee that does not sting but bores a hole in your arm that takes about three months to heal. There was malaria, dengue fever, and of course poverty.
One of my profound impressions of my journey was being very tired. The roads were not paved and that constant bumping around is tiring. I was working in another language which is also tiring and just the whole culture shock can be exhausting. I remember getting tired ...
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