4th Sunday of Lent Year – B
2 Chr.36:14-16, 19-23; Eph.2:4-10; Jn.3:14-21
A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and says, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven.
You tell me all the good things you’ve done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”
“Okay,” the man says, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, and loved her deep in my heart.” “That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter, “that’s worth two points!” “Only two points?” the man says.
“Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithes and service.” “Terrific!” says St. Peter.
“That’s certainly worth a point.” “One point!?!! I started a soup kitchen in my city and also worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” “Fantastic, that’s good for two more points,” St. Peter says. “Two points!?!!”
Exasperated, the man cries, “At this rate, the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God.” ‘Bingo! 100 points ! Come on in!’
Today is the first day of the fourth week of Lent. Today is “Rejoice Sunday” too. So, three weeks done is 21 days, and there are 19 days left until the Easter Triduum.
We are halfway through! I hope these days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving have been fruitful. We should not stop or slow down.
When a runner reaches the halfway point of a race, they rejoice, but they keep running. So we too should rejoice but keep running this race.
Why does the Church invite us in the middle of the penitential season of Lent to rejoice? It is because, “God so loved the world so much that he gave his only son.”
These forty days provide an opportunity for God, and he is always going to take advantage of an opportunity to save us. We are trying to listen to him.
We are trying to love ourselves less and our neighbors more. We are trying to be perfect, and he, who wants us to be perfect, is using this effort to effect real change in our souls.
It is not we who are accomplishing this change, lest we should boast. But God cannot accomplish the change unless we are trying to be perfect. We try, and he accomplishes.
God built the road; we are just driving on it. We are not saved by our works, for our works are insufficient, but they are necessary.
Just as a car does not move because I push my foot on a gas pedal slightly: it moves because of the gas and the engine and the design, but until I do press down slightly, the car will not go anywhere, so too we do not actually accomplish our salvation by means of the little works we do, the fasting and the praying and the almsgiving, but without them we are not saved.
So what is the one big difference between God and us? God gives and forgives! We get and forget! God loved the world so much that He gave.
We love the world so much that we forget that He gave. So it is correct to say that this Lent we are saving ourselves because we are finally making use of the grace of God.
The goal of all this effort is to believe in Jesus. God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
If you are looking for something to believe or someone to believe in, I can recommend Jesus, but it is not easy to believe in Jesus.
Believing in Jesus must mean something other than going to Mass on Sunday and something other than saying the right words and even something other than a particular feeling of faith, for wicked people often appear to lack nothing of these normal religious attributes.
If I believe in Jesus, I believe that he will not fail me; I believe that his commands are true and good, and I believe that my happiness comes from him and nowhere else.
If I have faith in Jesus I am making a statement about how my whole life will be structured. It is this kind of faith that has the power to save.
If I believe in God, this faith has to change my whole life. The ancient Israelites forgot how important God was. They thought that he would not mind if they sinned.
He sent them prophets to warn them, but they ignored the prophets, so he sent a different kind of messenger: the King Nebuchadnezzar, who came and destroyed Jerusalem, and carried the Israelites back as slaves.
We should not imagine that the situation is any different now. God does not expect less of us. He expects more from us because we have been given more grace.
If he was not willing to preserve Jerusalem, his holy city, when the inhabitants had given themselves over to sin, he will not have any special protection for our country or any other country.
The citizens of Jerusalem thought they were safe because of their allies and their strong walls and their other defenses, but an empire arose from nowhere and conquered them easily.
We are being confronted by some difficult decisions: do we believe in our country or do we believe in Jesus?
This does not have to be a contradiction, but it slowly is becoming one. Our country has risen, and someday it will fall, but Jesus is forever.
Do we believe in the general opinion of society or do we believe in Jesus? There are a lot of voices that call traditional morality “extreme”.
And then there is a constant buzz that says that Jesus cannot be trusted, that we have to make certain allowances, certain indulgences, certain reasonable adaptations.
We call it “updating” Christianity, but that is only because we live in a culture obsessed with have everything up-to-date. There has always been a voice opposed to Christianity. Do we believe in that voice, or do we believe in Jesus?
Believing in Jesus includes three elements: 1) the belief that God is our loving Father,
2) the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, tells us the truth about God and life, and
3) the belief that we must give unquestioning obedience to Jesus. “I believe” means I put my trust in Jesus and I seek to obey Him.
We must do “good works” if we have been truly saved. In other words, if we are saved by our Faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, good works will follow as our acts of thanksgiving.
This favor from God is constantly being offered, and our challenge is to respond to it gratefully by leading a good life.
Thus, we will receive from God eternal life, the very life of God Himself. Then we will experience peace with God, peace with men, peace with life and peace with ourselves.
Believing in Jesus is not easy. It is a decision we make and a decision we fight for every day. In every action we say what we believe in and we decide what we will believe in.
So we need to reciprocate God’s love by loving others. God’s love is unconditional, universal, forgiving and merciful. Let us try, with His help, to make an earnest attempt to include these qualities as we share our love with others during Lent.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing. Amen.