(Given at Mary Immaculate Church, Kirksville, Mo)
How is your Lent going? Is something changing in your life? Have you determined if anything needs to change to improve your relationship with God? Are you praying? Are you fasting? Been to Confession lately? Are you doing anything? We all want to go to Heaven! Does something have to change? Something has to change! That is what Lent is about!
One thing to examine in Lent would be whether or not you prefer to be more a child of this world, and are resisting becoming a child of God, a citizen of Heaven. How does your behavior have to change to prepare for Eternal Life with God? God won’t force us to go to Heaven. We have to choose God and Eternal Life with Him.
Perhaps it helps to examine how we see the world and our participation in this world. Does the world win all your contests? Does the world get in the way of your prayer and worship and self-discipline? How do you see Jesus, compared to the world in which we live?
Perhaps it would help to see the way things were before Jesus came to earth.
From the time Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God and left the Garden of Eden, up to the time of Jesus, the world lived with death, without hope. We take so much for granted that we forget about the world before Jesus, without Jesus, without real hope.
If you are familiar with human literature prior to the life of Jesus, you would see that the world was dominated by death and melancholy. There was no hope of anything beyond death. Death won every contest. Life was lived in melancholy, waiting for death.
Religion was most often an awareness of some superior beings, but people had to keep them happy with sacrifices, or things could get really bad. Or, religious activities were directed toward things like self-help, like sacrifices for annual food production and the hope of human fertility, because the only hope for future life was through our children. The Greek and Roman gods played with humans, like toys. Religion was not an exercise for seeking conquest over death, or obtaining eternal life. Religion was not about hope for life and goodness. Religion was more like what we call superstition today. The gods did not love man. Man was wary of the gods.
Today, we have become so accustomed to the permanence of Christian Hope that we appear to take it for granted.
Take for example the exchange we hear in the Gospel between Jesus and Nicodemus. We have become so accustomed to that dialog that perhaps we have become numb to just how novel that dialog really was at the time.
Let’s imagine that we are not Christians, but pre-Christian; part of that huge human population, millions of people who lived in the time we now refer to as B.C., Before Christ.
Now, let’s listen again to the Gospel dialog between Nicodemus and Jesus. Understand that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a leader and teacher of the Jews. He is intrigued by Jesus, but he doesn’t have the courage to be seen visiting Jesus, so he comes at night. He is more afraid of his colleagues. He inquires about where Jesus came from. Jesus knows his real curiosity, and tells him about the Kingdom of God.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born* from above.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (This is our Baptism)
Nicodemus isn’t getting it, so Jesus tells him,
“Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’
Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?”
Nicodemus is still a child of his world. Despite that fact that he was a teacher of Israel, he still does not understand the Spirit and the works of God. Nicodemus cannot see beyond mortal death.
If you are still with me, then you might begin to understand, that even for a Jewish teacher, just how startling was Jesus’ revelation to him in today’s Gospel. It is the most famous biblical quote known today, 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.
And Jesus went on to teach him,
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Can you imagine how strange this sounded to someone who was a child of the world prior to Jesus? In B.C. history, Death was supposed to reign supreme, not life! But for Jesus, Death was not obstacle, but already defeated, conquered. This was world-shaking for Nicodemus, and for the rest of the world. St. Paul got it, and would later write,
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The world, ruled by Death, was a sad, dark place. Fear was the rule, not courage. Remember how Nicodemus came to Jesus, in the darkness, and lacking courage, like a cockroach. I often compare superstition to cockroaches. What happens when you turn on the light in the kitchen late at night and see the cockroaches? They scurry for the shadows in fear, because they prefer the darkness.
Then Jesus tells Nicodemus about darkness and light and the time of judgment,
And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. (Cockroaches??)
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. (More cockroaches??)
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
So, this Lent, do you have some things that need to be brought out into the light? Do you have some cockroaches you need to purge? Are you afraid of the light of Christ?
That is what Lent is for; to shed light on our darkness. Does something have to change?