Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year B


John J. Lydon, O.S.A.
Vicariato San Juan de Sahagun
Trujillo (La Libertad)

2 Chr 36: 14-16, 19-23
Ps 137: 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Eph 2: 4-10
Jn 3: 14-21

As we look upon our nation at this time in its history, there are as many distinct and different narratives as is to be expected in a large country of great diversity. However, for those who have lived a half-century or more, we cannot but see the political and perhaps cultural dividing lines growing further apart. In much of the world there is the growing gap between the rich and the poor, so much talked about by the Popes in the 20th century and one of the seeds of the Church’s social teaching. Certainly that gap exists in a real, although far lesser degree, in our country than in the world at large. But other gaps seem larger here than in the rest of the world, and one of those is the gap that divides us into red and blue, and all the different names used to describe the divisions. It is the us vs. them, the other as enemy, the other as evil that we need to think about. How do we as a people of faith respond to this?

In the first reading we hear how God makes use of human history to help shape His people. His chosen people, through which He was to reveal His plan of universal salvation, was taken into captivity, as the second book of Chronicles narrates. They lost the promised land, and entered into the darkest part of their history, feeling abandoned and alone. But they were never alone, as the sacred author tells us, and eventually, through the actions of another “enemy,” the king of Persia, they were directed back to their land, a more humble but united people.

St. Paul gives us the profound secret of this relationship between God and His people. We are reminded of the virtue of humility because it is God’s grace, His free and generously given grace, that alone transforms us and brings “us to life.” Paul is clear that this is a pure gift of God, it doesn’t come because of who you are or what you did, “so that no one may boast.” As Augustine wrote, the only way “of seizing and holding the truth… in that way the first part is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility.” It is only in humility that unity is possible, since the differences are not absolutized into the only truth.

It is this vision of humility, that the scriptures so much mention, that we need to recover for ourselves today. When we embrace the value of humility, we see as St. Augustine once said in prayer, “Your truth Lord, is not mine nor his, nor any other person’s, but belongs to all of us whom you call to its communion.” To know that we don’t possess the only insight, that we alone don’t have the full truth, but that we are called in respect and dialogue to search for it in humility, is the great gift that we as Church can give to our country in this day. If we had more of this “humble heart” our discourse would change and reflect our dearest values. In the age of social media, where instant insults and anonymous threats (i.e., trolling) are shaping our common vision, we need to return to the spirit of humility that Paul says is at the heart of our being God’s people filled with the richness of His Grace.

This brings us to the gospel. The reading is also used on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, because for Christians the cross brings us together, the cross heals us, just as the serpent cured those bitten by the snakes in the book of Exodus. The cross, St. Paul tells us, brings down all the walls that divide us, so that we are one people, united in God’s plan (Eph 2). And for Paul, the cross is the sign of God’s humility, because the Lord of Lords humbled Himself and took the condition of a slave, dying on the cross, in order to lift us all to new life (Phil 2).

But the light of the cross is often not accepted, and so the evangelist John, here and in various parts of his gospel, uses the contrast between light and darkness. There are people who love the darkness “because their works are evil,” the gospel says. We can say, paradoxically, that we see clearly the darkness when we look at the evil that some leaders wreak on their people, in Syria, Venezuela, North Korea– and the list goes on and is not at all short. Faced with such evil, such darkness, we are called to be prophets and speak the truth, and we are called to be Christians extending the hand of solidarity to the victims of these evils.

But there are numerous others with whom we live and work, or those in other cities and other states, who are not in the darkness as St John describes it, but who live in search of truth, and thus “come to the light.” The light, of course, is not me, nor my truth, but Christ and His truth. This is what is essential to remember and is the fruit of humility. My perspective, my opinion is not the light, and those who think differently are not bad and in darkness. Indeed, in some way we are all in darkness at times, but we are here on this Sunday because we want to move to His light. When we see His light challenging both my darkness and the darkness of others, then in humility I can begin to close the gap that divides.

Doing so as a humble person, as a more humble people, is the great challenge we face and the gift we as Church can give. To build bridges and not walls, as Pope Francis reminds us, is how we are called to be Church in our present world. This requires of us constant prayer. In his recent visits to Chile and Peru, the pope used the theme Unity in Hope, to emphasize that in the fragmented world where we live, the Church must be more a community of love and respect. Unity is not easy, he says, because the source of all evil “roams to bring discord.” It is in prayer that we recognize our own humbleness, our own darkness, and realize that in God alone we have the strength to search out and promote unity in place of discord. To a meeting of contemplative sisters in Lima, he said, “I have one favor to ask, pray for unity.” It is a request we should all join in, because it brings us closer to the light of Christ’s cross, and the imitation of His humility.

In respect, in dialogue more than diatribe, we come together under the cross of Christ, knowing that the light that comes from that cross is His grace, and it is that alone that makes us listen to our better angels.