“In those days they added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations…”
These are the first words of the first reading from 2 Chronicle -a declaration of the moral state of the people. This ancient prophetic warning could be applied easily to the situation of the world today. Historically, this text was a description of the people of Israel just before the Babylonian invasion and the sack of Jerusalem. The utter destruction of the country and the Babylonian captivity was the prophetic judgment against the people for their infidelity to God.
History tends to repeat itself. The basic same ole problem rears its head time and time again. Each generation practices its own version of infidelity to God. Thus, St. Paul has ample evidence when he says that “we were dead in our transgressions.”
From the original sin in the Garden of Eden until today, we human beings struggle with our sin, our lack of love. In that struggle we discover that we are dead in our transgressions. Spiritually dead, that is to say. For we human beings commit all kinds of sins, acts of unfaithfulness, expressions of violence, abuses, backbiting, gossiping, divisions, factions, and the like. Who of us has not been touched by sin? This is the terrible inheritance we have received from our forebears. This spiritual death of alienation, separation, and the darkening of our minds.
Biblical history demonstrates this human problem over and over. Remember the story of Noah? God was going to wipe out sin from the earth through a flood while saving one righteous family in order to start over. But Noah’s family wasn’t immune from sin after the flood. Genesis tells a story about Noah’s family that demonstrates family violence and abuse.
Remember the stories of the prophets? They came time and time again to warn the people against the dangers of sin. But consequence followed consequence because of the people’s unfaithfulness. They continued to forget God and to remain in their sin.
Lest we think that modern day people are somehow better, just remember that the 20th century was the most violent and bloody century in all the history of mankind. The 21st Century doesn’t seem to be any better. Terrorism, the threat of global war, and every manner of corruption marks this present generation. We seek peace, but it eludes us. We seek enlightenment, but so many live in darkness. The moral order seems to be going upside down.
It is painful to think about the direction of the world today. But, we are people of hope, not despair. Remember the words of Jesus to Nicodemus? He said those words which are probably the most quoted words in the Bible, from John 3:16 “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.”
Amazing words, really. These words reveal two important things to us.
1. These words reveal God’s feelings about us. God loves the world. That means you and me as well. And God knows fully well the evil that people sometimes do. But God has loved us even while we were sinners. Even in the midst of our darkest time, when we do the worst - God loves the world.
2. These words reveal God’s plan for us. God wants to save the world, not condemn it. God wants to save us through the gift of faith. Listen to these words. “he gave us his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
There it is - brief and simple. God’s feelings about us and God’s plan for us are revealed to us by Jesus. So how do we respond?
1. Remember the message of Ash Wednesday? Repent and believe. That’s our first response – our first step. Believe in God’s love and God’s plan. How do we do that?
2. Next step. Be in a saving and sacramental relationship with Jesus. God is as interested in us as individuals as God is interested in the whole of creation. Love is always keenly interested in the beloved. So be in a saving and sacramental relationship with our loving Father in Heaven through faith in Jesus. Jesus showed us the way, after all. He showed us that this relationship of love is so powerful, that it overcomes death. Physical death and spiritual death. That is why Jesus was raised from the dead.
3. That brings us to step three. Receive God’s promise of eternal life. We often think of eternal life as that thing that happens after we die. But that is too limited. God promises us eternal life right here and right now. When we believe in Jesus and have a sacramental relationship with God our Almighty Father, then we are invited to participate in heaven right here and now. Jesus revealed that truth to us through his ministry here on earth. He showed us that we can have mystical union with God. He taught us to pray for it - “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The saints throughout history show us that we have a divine inheritance. The Eucharist is God’s visible sign to us of eternal life. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” This is the inheritance that transforms us into God’s saints.
4. And that bring us to step four. Become a saint. But many people object here. They say, “I’m just an ordinary person. I can’t be a saint.” Just remember. Saints are ordinary people like you and me chosen by God (as we all are) to be in a saving and sacramental relationship with him. The closer we get to our heavenly Father through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the more we become God’s saints. We get closer to our heavenly father through believing in Jesus, through prayer, and through receiving the promises Jesus gave us through the sacraments. It’s that simple. It is the way of love, the way of the saints. The saints are the ones who lived the words of Jesus – like what he said at the end of today’s gospel: “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
All of this reveals God’s heart towards us and God’s plan for us. This is summed up so well in Jesus’ famous words to Nicodemus. Words to memorize. Words to contemplate. Words to live.
“God loved the world so much, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”