March 18, 2012


HOMILY for the 4th Sunday of Lent (B)

2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

The Greek root word that recurs in today’s Gospel is krinw, which basically means, to decide, to separate, to distinguish. In this sense, there is a judgment, a choice, to be made. Hence, in today’s Gospel the words derived from krinw are translated as judgment (krisis), and condemn (krine). The problem is that both these words have become quite emotionally charged. 

Hence the Media is fond of the word crisis, which is derived from the Greek krisis, but which, in its origin just means ‘judgment’, ‘decision’. A crisis point is that point when a decision has to be made, and it is only fraught and laden with pain and anguish, as crisis seems to mean these days, if one doesn’t know what decision to make, or if it is a hard choice one has to make. A krisis is only a crisis when we don’t know what to do and how to go forward, as was the case when Greece was about to default on its loans again, and the Greek government didn’t know if they should swallow further austerity measures and stay in the Euro or not. 

In our First Reading, it’s not Greece but Israel that’s in a crisis. Not because of misjudged financial decisions, but because of the sinful decisions they’d made to turn from God. And so, Jerusalem was decimated, and the people of Israel were enslaved. But God did not abandon them in this crisis. Instead, he gave krisis, judgment. For when God’s people could not judge wisely and see the way forward, God made a decision for them: he forgave them, and made it possible for them to build the Temple up again, so that they could move on. All Israel had to do was to trust God’s merciful decision, which came through the unusual channel of a pagan king, and start re-building.

Another word the Media is keen on is ‘condemn’. Often the pope or some other church leader is headlined as condemning something or someone. But I think this word is too negatively understood, carrying with it the sense that one is not just judged to have made bad choices but is also damned. However, ours is not a God who damns anyone, thus the Church has never named anyone as damned to hell – she can’t. What God does do is to respect our freedom to make even bad decisions, and the Church warns against those decisions, but the choice – and the consequence – remains entirely ours. So, if God is not condemning, in the sense understood by the Media, then what is happening in today’s Gospel?

God is rescuing. And to do this, he makes a krisis, a decision, just as he had done for ancient Israel. For humanity had become paralyzed by their sins, their errant choices and foolish decisions. And God’s decision, his judgment call in the crisis situation of our sins, that have decimated and enslaved us, is to send his Son to to loosen our bonds, to cancel our debt, to  build us up. Jesus is the rescue package to our debt crisis. As St John puts it: “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” And just as God’s salvation for Israel came through the unexpected means of Cyrus king of Persia, so God’s salvation for the entire world comes through the unexpected means of Christ. Unexpected, because God has become Man, and even more unexpectedly, because the Messiah was no warrior but suffered and died. Hence, St Paul says: “Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). 

But the crucifixion of Christ – his being lifted up on the Cross – and, following his death, his being lifted up by the Father in the resurrection, and then lifting off into heaven at his ascension; all this lifting up of Christ is the krisis, the judgment of the world, as St John puts it later in his Gospel (cf Jn 12:31). And the krisis of God brings us to a crisis point. We have to make a decision. God has undone the crisis of our sins, but now we are left with a choice, a judgment call, a decision. Will we trust God’s merciful decision, revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and start re-building our lives accordingly? As St John puts it, the decision we have to make is whether or not to “believe in the name of the only-begotten Son of God”, that is, to trust in Christ, indeed, to entrust our lives to him.

And the decision we make, as with all decisions, is borne out in how we live. Greece, for example, made a decision to accept even more severe austerity measures, but we wait to see if they can actually live up to their decision and make the necessary sacrifices. So too, with us. Our decision for or against Christ will be shown up in what we do, so that it is our own actions that will judge us. If we choose to trust in Christ, then Christian discipleship means that we will need to make certain sacrifices, undertake our own austerity measures, particularly during Lent, so that our lives will be changed by our decision to follow Christ. Such reform begins with a new mindset, allowing the light of faith in Christ to guide our steps, and willing the logic and wisdom of the Cross to inform our decisions. 

And sometimes this will bring us to a crisis point, because a judgment, a hard decision has to be made. Do we entrust our life and way of living to Jesus, the “whole Christ” who is unfailingly present and teaching through his holy Church? Or to the numerous other voices and authorities – the Media, government, popular culture etc – that vie for our trust? The free choice, and the consequences of that choice, remains entirely ours.

  1. lawrenceop posted this
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