Lent 4 B - Serpant Lifted up: Venom turns into Healing

Readings
First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Second Reading: Ephesians 2: 4-10
Gospel: John 3: 14-21
Anecdotes

1) Glimpse of God’s love in the Amtrak tragedy: Near Mobile, Alabama, there was a railroad bridge that spanned a big bayou. The date was September 22, 1993. It was a foggy morning, just before daybreak, when a tugboat accidentally pushed a barge into the bayou. The drifting barge slammed into the river bridge. In the darkness no one could see the extent of the damage, but someone on the tugboat radioed the Coast Guard. Minutes later, an Amtrak train, the Sunset Limited, reached the bridge as it traveled from Los Angeles to Miami. Unaware of the damage, the train crossed the bridge at 70 mph. There were 220 passengers on board. As the weight of the train broke the support, the bridge gave away. Three locomotive units and the first four of the train’s eight passenger cars fell into the alligator infested bayou. In the darkness, the fog was thickened by fire and smoke. Six miles from land, the victims were potential food for the aroused alligators. Helicopters were called in to help rescue the victims. They were able to save 163 persons. But one rescue stands out. Gery and Mary Chancey were waiting in the railcar with their eleven-year-old daughter. When the car went into the bayou and began to fill rapidly with water, there was only one thing they could do. They pushed their young daughter through the window into the hands of a rescuer, and then succumbed to their watery death. Their sacrificial love stands out especially because their daughter was imperfect by the world's standards. She was born with cerebral palsy and needed help with even the most routine things. But she was precious to her parents. We, too, are imperfect – our lives filled with mistakes, sin and helplessness. But we are still precious to God – so precious that He sacrificed his Son Jesus to save us. Today’s gospel tells us how a perfect God sent His perfect Son to save an imperfect world.
2) "I beheld only the face of the man who would die for me." On the southern border of the Persian empire of Cyrus, there lived a great chieftain named Cagular who tore to shreds and completely defeated the various detachments of Cyrus’ army sent to subdue him. Finally the emperor, amassing his whole army, marched down, surrounded Cagular, captured him, and brought him to the capital for execution. On the day of the trial, he and his family were brought to the judgment chamber. Cagular, a fine-looking man of more than 6 feet, with a noble manner about him was a magnificent specimen of manhood. So impressed was Cyrus with his appearance that he said to Cagular, "What would you do should I spare your life?" "Your Majesty, if you spared my life, I would return to my home and remain your obedient servant as long as I lived." "What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?" "Your Majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you." So moved was the emperor that he freed them both and returned Cagular to his province to act as governor thereof. Upon arriving at home, Cagular reminisced about the trip with his wife. "Did you notice," he said to his wife, "the marble at the entrance of the palace? Did you notice the tapestry on the wall as we went down the corridor into the throne room? And did you see the chair on which the emperor sat? It must have been carved from one lump of pure gold." His wife could appreciate his excitement, but she only replied: "I really didn’t notice any of that." "Well," said Cagular in amazement, "What did you see?" His wife looked seriously into his eyes and said, "I beheld only the face of the man who said to the emperor that he would die for me." Today’s gospel presents before us the face of God’s Son who was sent to die for us, demonstrating God’s mercy and love for each one of us.

Introduction

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare (Rejoice) Sunday, from the first words of the liturgy [Introit]. Since it occurs in the middle of Lent, as Gaudete Sunday is celebrated midway through Advent, Lætare Sunday reminds us of the Event we look forward to at the end of the penitential season. As on Gaudete Sunday, rose-colored vestments may replace violet, with flowers on the altar symbolizing the Church's joy in anticipation of the Resurrection, which cannot be contained even in Lent, though we still refrain from Alleluias and the singing of the Gloria until the magnificence of the Easter Vigil.

The central theme of today’s readings is that our salvation is the free gift of a merciful God given to us through Jesus His, Son. The readings stress God’s mercy and compassion, the great love, kindness and grace extended to us in Christ. As an act of love and gratitude to God who is “rich in mercy” and as an expression of our faith, we are invited to share his sufferings by doing penance during Lent so that we may inherit our eternal salvation and the glory of his resurrection in heaven. As we continue our Lenten observance in the fourth week, the Sacred Liturgy invites us to enter more deeply into the mystery of God's grace, mercy and salvation. In the first reading, from the Second Book of Chronicles, we learn the compassion and patience of God. God allowed Cyrus the Great, a pagan conqueror, to become the instrument of His mercy and salvation for His chosen people who were in exile in Babylon. In the second reading, Paul tells us that God is so rich in mercy that He has granted us eternal salvation and eternal life as a free gift through Christ Jesus. Today’s gospel has a parallel theme but on a much higher level. Jesus, the Son of God, became the agent of God's salvation, not just for one sinful nation but for the sinfulness of the whole world. Through John 3:16, the gospel teaches us that God expressed His love, mercy and compassion for us by giving His only Son for our salvation.

First reading, 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23:

Today's gospel contains this lament of John the Evangelist: "The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light." The chronicler in the first reading says the same thing about the chosen people long ago: "But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His warnings, and scoffed at His prophet.” The Second Book of Chronicles describes the history of the period from the reign of Israel's first king, Saul, (1030 BC), to the end of Judah's exile in Babylon (550 BC). Today’s passage shows us how the people's infidelities caused them to lose the Temple and their homeland, and how God arranged, through the pagan king of Persia, to return them to their homeland and to help them rebuild His Temple there. This short, sad summary with a hopeful ending is told from the viewpoint of a conviction that right worship will restore a people.

Second Reading, Ephesians 2:4-10:

Paul teaches that, although we don’t deserve anything from God on our own merits, God chose to love, save and give life to us - both Jewish and Gentile Christians - because of His great mercy and love. In the first half of his letter, Paul says that divine grace did three things for us: a) brought us to life in Christ, b) raised us up with him, and c) seated us in the heavens. The sole purpose of these divine deeds was to show the immeasurable riches of God's grace. In the second half of the reading, Paul contrasts what we can achieve spiritually on our own (nothing), with what God gives us as undeserved grace (everything). Paul also reminds us that all our goodness is God's gift to us and is nothing for us to boast about. Our goodness, such as it is, is His goodness shining through us. By grace we are saved through faith, and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God (Eph 4:8-10).

Exegesis

The context: Nicodemus, the wealthy Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, meets Jesus by night and begins a long religious discussion. But Jesus interrupts him, stating that rebirth by water and the Spirit is an essential condition for entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus explains to him that he must believe His words because he is the Son of God. He further explains God’s plan of salvation by referring to the story of Moses and the brazen serpent. Jesus also reveals the good news that God will show His love for mankind by subjecting His own Son to suffering and death.

A) The uplifted serpent: John refers to an Old Testament story given in the book of Numbers, Ch. 21:4-9. On their journey through the wilderness the people of Israel murmured and complained, regretting that they had ever left Egypt. To punish them God sent a plague of deadly serpents. When the people repented and cried for mercy, God instructed Moses to make an image of a serpent in bronze and to hold it up in the midst of the camp so that those who looked upon the serpent might be healed through the power of God. In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus tells Nicodemus that, like Moses’ bronze serpent, He, too, must be “lifted up” (a contemporary euphemism for being crucified), and that the act of His being “lifted up” will similarly bring about salvation. This is the first of three references in John’s Gospel to Jesus being “lifted up” (cf. 8:28, 12:32-34). Specifically, it foreshadowed Jesus’ crucifixion, bearing the burden of the sins of the world. When humans turn their thoughts to their crucified savior and believe in him, they too will find eternal life. Jesus was lifted up twice: on the Cross and at his ascension into heaven. Just as the cross was the way to glory for Jesus, so it is for us. We can, if we like, refuse the cross that every Christian is called to bear. It is an unalterable law of human life, however, that if there is no cross, there is no crown.

B) Believing in Jesus: This 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. The faith of which our Lord speaks is not just intellectual acceptance of the truths He has taught: it involves recognizing Him as Son of God (cf. 1 John 5:1), sharing His very life (cf. John 1:12) and surrendering ourselves to Him out of love, thereby becoming like Him (cf. John 10:27; 1 John 3:2) (Navarre Bible). The Catholic doctrine teaches that salvation is “by grace through faith unto good works.” 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, which is the very life of God Himself. Then we will experience peace with God, peace with men, peace with life and peace with ourselves.

C) The gospel of the gospels: John 3:16 is probably the best loved verse in the Bible and it has been called "everybody's text" and the “gospel of the gospels.” “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.” This is the summary of the Gospel message of salvation through Christ Jesus. This text is the very essence of the gospel. It tells us that the initiative in all salvation is God’s love for man. As St. Augustine puts it: "God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love." It also explains to us the universality of the love of God. God's motive is love and God's objective is salvation. Those who actually receive eternal life must believe in the Son.

D) Love of darkness and judgment: When we walk according to the teachings of Christ, we are walking in the Light. If we oppose these teachings, we oppose Christ himself; hence, we are walking in darkness. In today's text, we are told, Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. There are many dark corners in our world. Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography, sexual immorality, environmental irresponsibility, and a lack of purpose among so many of us, especially the youth, are a few of these dark corners. It is very easy to pretend that these dark corners don't exist. We act like the desert nomad in the story who woke up hungry in the middle of the night. He lit a candle and began eating dates from a bowl beside his bed. He took a bite from one and saw a worm in it; so he threw it out of the tent. He bit into the second date, found another worm, and threw it away also. Reasoning that he wouldn't have any dates left to eat if he continued to look for worms, he blew out the candle and quickly ate the rest of the dates!
Our lives matter to God, and He knows all about the dark corners in our lives. He wants us to stop hiding our sin in the dark and demands that we expose every dark corner to His Light of life. He is giving to us the Light that not only shows up the dirt in our lives but cleans it away. He died so that we could be made new and clean. Freely, the light of His forgiveness shines into our lives, brightening up every corner, forgiving every sin, restoring our relationship with God, renewing our lives.

Life messages :

1) We need to love the cross, the symbol of God’s forgiving and merciful love: The crucifix – the symbol of the “lifted up” Jesus - holds a central place in our churches because it is a forceful reminder not only of God's love and mercy, but also of the price of our salvation. Hence, no Christian home should be without this symbol of God's love. It invites us to more than generosity and compassion. It inspires us to remove the suffering of other people’s misery. It encourages us not only to feel deep sorrow for another’s suffering, but also to try our best to remove that suffering. Hence, let us love the cross, wear its image and carry our own daily cross with joy.
2) 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.
3) Our rebirth by water and the Spirit must be an ongoing process. That is, we must lead a life of repentance and conversion, bringing us to renewal of life with the help of the Holy Spirit living within us. The renewal of the Spirit comes when we work with Him to be liberated from the bondage of evil habits by using the divine strength we receive through prayer, Bible reading and frequenting the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
4) Let us be bearers of Jesus’ light and carry it to other people. When we allow the light of God’s forgiveness to shine in our lives, it brightens up every corner, forgives every sin, restores our relationship with God and renews our lives. Whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness. We will experience the joy and peace of sins forgiven, of new attitudes and of new relationships with family and friends. Jesus’ light of truth, justice, holiness and charity shining in our lives ought to bring blessing to others. We are to let this light of Christ shine through us into the lives of the people around us. The light we give to others can dispel the darkness of their lives and bring them to a completely new outlook. Let us not underestimate what the light of Christ can do through us. As Jesus said: “You are the light of the world.... your light must shine before people so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

Additional Anecdotes

1) The Hound of Heaven: The Hound of Heaven, written by Francis Thompson, is one of the best known religious poems in the English language. It describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. It is the story of a human soul who tries to flee from God as it thinks that it will lose its freedom in the company of God. It is the story of Thompson’s own life. As a boy, he intended to become a priest. But the laziness of his brilliant son prompted Thompson’s father to enroll young Francis in a medical school. There he became addicted to the opium that almost wrecked his body and mind. He fled to a slum and started earning a living by shining shoes, selling matches, and holding horses. In 1887 Francis sent some poems and an essay to Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, the editor of a Catholic literary magazine called Merry England. The editor recognized the genius behind these works and published them in April 1888. Then Meynell went in search of the poet. He arranged accommodation for Francis, introduced him to other poets and helped him to realize God’s love. How Francis tried to run away from God, how God “hunted” him, how divine love caught up with him – these are the themes of his stirring poem, The Hound of Heaven. Once we realize, as did the poet Francis Thompson and all the saints, that God pursues our souls to the ends of the earth and beyond, then we will try to return to that love and allow the Hound of Heaven to “catch” us. Today’s gospel tells us about the breadth and depth and height of the divine love of the Hound of heaven for each one of us.

2) “Gee, Mom, she thinks I'm real!" There is an old story about a family consisting of mother, father, and small son who went into a restaurant. As they were seated at the table, the waitress sailed up. You know, the particular kind of waitress who moves as though she were the captain of a ship. She sailed up, pad in efficient hand, looked, and waited. The parents ordered. Then the boy looked up and said plaintively, "I want a hot dog." "No hot dog!" said the mother. "Bring him potatoes, beef, and a vegetable." The waitress paused for a moment, and then looked at the boy squarely and said, "Yes, sir. What do you want on your hot dog?" "Ketchup - lots of ketchup - and a glass of milk." "One hot dog, coming up," said the waitress and sailed off toward the kitchen. The boy turned to his parents said, "Gee, Mom, she thinks I'm real!" One reason that we are real is because God thinks we are real. He created all of us to be His children. That process of becoming God’s children may be for us as radical as being born anew, as Jesus told Nicodemus, but it is precisely that for which we were created. For Christians, to be real, is to allow ourselves to be loved by God, and to love God in return, which, according to St. John, means doing the truth.

3) Nicodemus in art and history: One of Rembrandt's most famous etchings portrays the scene. The limp, dead body of Jesus was slowly taken down from the cross. Joseph of Arimathea, dressed as the person that he was, in all his finery, stands close by. In the darkness, further away, veiled in shadow as only Rembrandt could do it, with his face lined in sorrow, is Nicodemus. He is holding in his hands the linen cloth in which Jesus' body would be buried. The Gospel says that Nicodemus also brought with him a mixture of spices, myrrh and aloes, "about a hundred pounds". One wonders what Nicodemus must have been thinking as he stood there, waiting for the body of Christ to be taken down from the cross. Obviously, much was going on in his life -- this wealthy man, bringing fine linen and a bountiful amount of expensive spices to anoint the body of one who had died as a common criminal. Was he still mystified as he had been when Jesus told him that he must be born again? Was he still puzzled by the response of Jesus when he pressed his question about how one could be born again? Jesus' answer had been totally unsatisfying for his rational mind: "The Spirit blows where it wills -- you feel it, and you hear the sound of it -- but you don't know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

4) Emergency Night call: One of the things that pastors, doctors, fire-fighters, and police have in common that they all receive occasional night calls. And most pastors would agree that some of our most significant opportunities to help people have come in response to night-time calls, usually of an emergency nature. However, not all of our night calls are that significant. Dr. Robert Ozmont of First United Methodist Church in Atlanta received a call one night about 2:00 AM. He did not know the lady who called; she had found his number in the yellow pages. She had a problem. By any objective measure it was not an emergency; certainly it could have waited until morning. Nevertheless, Dr. Ozmont tried to offer what advice he could. Then he asked, "Ma'am, do you belong to a church in Atlanta?" "Yes," she replied. "I am a member of Calvary Presbyterian." "Why," asked Dr. Ozmont, "didn't you call your pastor about your problem?" "I thought about that," she said, "but my pastor works so hard that I just hated to bother him in the middle of the night." The gospel of John tells us about a night-time call Jesus received from a prestigious Jew named Nicodemus.

5) "Believe in the God Who Believes in You.” Mother Teresa was interviewed on American television a few years ago. She said, "It is very, very important, that the families teach their children to pray and pray with them." Then she added, "And we have enough reason to trust God, because when we look at the cross, we understand how much Jesus loved us. It is wonderful to be able to come to Jesus! That's why God made Him – to be our bread of life, to give us life! And with His life comes new life! New energy! New peace! New joy! New everything! And I think that's what brings glory to God, also, and it brings peace." Then she said, "I've seen families suffer so much, and when they've been brought to Jesus, it changes their whole lives." [Robert H. Shuller. Believe in the God Who Believes in You. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), p. 126.] I have also seen lives changed by the power of the cross. Have you? Today’s gospel gives a parallel between the bronze serpent erected by Moses to heal the Israelites bitten by snakes and Jesus raised on the cross to save mankind.

6) "Release this guilty man.” King Frederick II, an Eighteenth-Century king of Prussia, visited a prison in Berlin one day. The inmates jumped at the opportunity to plead their cases directly to the king. All except one. One prisoner sat quietly in the corner. This aroused the king's curiosity. The king quieted the other inmates and approached the man in the corner. "What are you in for?" he asked. "Armed robbery, your honor." The king asked, "Are you guilty?" "Yes sir," he answered. "I entirely deserve my punishment." The king then gave an order to the guard: "Release this guilty man. I don't want him corrupting all these innocent people." How ironic! Only when we admit our guilt can that guilt be washed away. One of the greatest promises of scripture is this one: "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9) Repentance is the first step toward new birth mentioned in today’s gospel. Think for a moment. Is there some failing in your life that you have never admitted to God?

7) Only five percent of people are able to dream in color: Did you know that a glass of hippopotamus milk contains eighty calories, or that only five percent of people are able to dream in color? Facts are intriguing but, just as quickly, they are easily forgotten. The recent knowledge explosion has had a great impact upon technology. With that technological 'know how,' we thought we had a blank check to the future. Then came the new bullies on the block: environmental pollution and computer impersonalism. The marriage of knowledge and technology was not creating the utopia we had hoped for. The yellow brick road to the future emptied into that old dirt path of breast-beating. It didn't break any record for moral progress, either. Many of us have to agree that any quest for knowledge as a thing in itself can be a dull date. Knowledge must ripen into truth. Okay, but what is the truth? To answer that adequately, we must recall Nicodemus. If ever a man were dead certain of himself, it was the Pharisee. For him all was quiet on the western front until he met Jesus. The Nazarene became the burr under his saddle. His intellectual absolutes shook like jello. His neatly spun web of Jewish theology slowly began to unravel.

8) “Well, Sarah, that is exactly right.” A little girl went to the doctor for a check-up. When the doctor came into the examining room, she held up both hands to get his attention and then she said: "Doctor, I know what you are going to do. You are going to do 5 things. You are going to check my eyes, my ears, my nose, my throat and my heart." The Doctor smiled and said: "Well, Sarah, that is exactly right. Is there any particular order I should go in?" Sarah said: "You can go in any order you want to... but if I were you, I'd start with the heart!!!" That's what Jesus did, wasn't it? He started with the heart. He started with Love... and that is precisely what he wants us to do!

9) "God, I ain't got nothin' against nobody." Anthony Campolo tells about a mountaineer from West Virginia who fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the town preacher. The gruff and tough man one evening looked deeply into the eyes of the preacher's daughter and said, "I love you." It took more courage for him to say those simple words than he had ever had to muster for anything else he had ever done. Minutes passed in silence and then the preacher's daughter said, "I love you, too." The tough mountaineer said nothing except, "Good night." Then he went home, got ready for bed and prayed, "God, I ain't got nothin' against nobody." Many of us know that feeling. To love and to be loved, what joy that simple emotion brings into our lives! Then to realize that the very nature of God is love is almost more than you or I can comprehend.

10) Chain of love: Before we are able to give love we must receive love. Let me give you a powerful example. Once years ago there was a little girl in an institution who was almost like a wild beast. The workers at the institution had written her off as hopeless. An elderly nurse believed there was hope for the child, however. She felt she could communicate love and hope to this wild little creature. The nurse daily visited the child whom they called Little Annie, but for a long time Little Annie gave no indication she was aware of her presence. The elderly nurse persisted and repeatedly brought some cookies and left them in her room. Soon the doctors in the institution noticed a change. After a period of time, they moved Little Annie upstairs. Finally the day came when this seemingly "hopeless case" was released. Filled with compassion for others because of her institutional experience, Little Annie, Anne Sullivan, wanted to help others. It was Anne Sullivan who, in turn, played the crucial role in the life of Helen Keller. It was she who saw the great potential in this little blind, deaf and rebellious child. She loved her, disciplined her, played, prayed, pushed, and worked with her until Helen Keller became an inspiration to the entire world. It began with the elderly nurse, then Anne Sullivan, then Helen Keller, and finally every person who has ever been influenced by the example of Helen Keller. (Jeffrey Holland in Vital Speeches) That chain of love goes on forever. Before it began with that elderly nurse, though, we have to go all the way back to the beginning when God first loved His creation. 

11) “I resolve to compose no more.": One day in his later years, the composer Johannes Brahms reached a point in his life when his composing almost came to a halt. He started many things, serenades, part songs and so on, but nothing seemed to work out. Then he thought, "I am too old. I have worked long and diligently and have achieved enough. Here I have before me a carefree old age and can enjoy it in peace. I resolve to compose no more." This cleared his mind and relaxed his faculties so much that he was able to pick up with his composing again without difficulty. Many of us are a bundle of anxieties. That is why we accomplish so little. What we need is to relax in the knowledge that we are loved. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him..." Do you believe in Christ? Then what in the world are you worried about? Accept his love. Lay your deepest concerns at the foot of the cross.

12) Driving Miss Daisy: Miss Daisy drove her Packard into her neighbor's backyard. Boolie Werthan, Daisy's son, thought that such an incident was sufficient evidence to warrant the end of his mother’s driving; she needed a driver, a chauffeur. Hoke Coleburn, a middle-aged black man, was Boolie's choice for the job. Daisy, however, would not accept this restriction, this change in her life; she was not open to being transformed. Boolie may have hired Hoke, but that did not mean that Miss Daisy had to use him. As Hoke stood idle, Miss Daisy took the street car wherever she went, to the hairdresser or the grocery store. Hoke Coleburn was being paid for doing nothing. That is exactly how Miss Daisy wanted things. As stubborn as she could be, Miss Daisy ultimately did change her attitude. One day she needed a few things from the store. She left the house and began to walk toward the streetcar. Hoke decided that Miss Daisy's refusal to use his services needed to end. As she walked down the sidewalk, Hoke slowly drove alongside in the new 1948 Hudson Boolie had purchased for his mother. "Where are you going?" scowled Daisy. Hoke replied, "I'm fixin' to take you to the store!" Although still not content with the arrangement, Daisy agreed to get into the car; her conversion had begun. Daisy did not approve, but Hoke had become her chauffeur. Whether it was to the temple (you see Miss Daisy was Jewish), the store, or a trip to Mobile to visit relatives, Daisy and Hoke went together. As the years passed, their relationship as driver and passenger grew; they bonded together. Then one day Miss Daisy's conversion became complete. The process had been long and sometimes difficult, but now it was finished. She could finally say, "Hoke, you are my best friend." Alfred Uhry's 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Driving Miss Daisy, tells more than the story of a relationship between a black chauffeur and an elderly, rich, Jewish widow. It is a story of a challenge to be transformed in mind and heart from rebellion to a sense of acceptance in one's life. Lent is a season when the church calls us to reflect upon our lives and see how we need to be transformed, to enter into a stronger relationship with God. Daisy's experience is one illustration of a reality for all - transformation takes time, and shortcuts to its end product only lead to problems and disappointments. Today's popular and familiar passage from John's Gospel challenges us, like Nicodemus, to be transformed to Christ.

13) “I can’t imagine dividing love by eight.” One of the “ministers” (that means lay persons) of a local church was delivering meals as part of his work with a “Meals on Wheels” mission. He took the meal to a home of a woman whose only child was visiting that day. He congratulated the woman for having such a nice son, and said “I have eight children of my own.” “Eight kids,” exclaimed the woman. “I love my son so much that I can’t imagine dividing love by eight.” “Ma’am,” the man said gently, “you don’t divide love--you multiply it.”
Jesus’ Love is not zero-based: The more you give, the less you have.

Jesus’ Love is eternity-based: The more you give, the more there is to go around.

Jesus’ Love is other-based: we are to reach out in love to “all people” and “especially to those of the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

14) A baseball story: Those who are "born again" claim Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. Let me share a sports story told by the outstanding Christian coach at Florida State University, Bobby Bowden. Back in the 1920s there was a great major league baseball player named Goose Gosling. His team was in the World Series one year. In the bottom of the 9th inning of the final game, the score was tied. Goose came to the plate. He got the kind of pitch he wanted and hit a solid line drive over the shortstop's head. It rolled all the way to the wall. The left-fielder fumbled the ball as he tried to make the play. Goose rounded second. As he neared third base, the coach was waving him toward home. The ball reached the catcher a half- second before Goose did. Goose lowered his shoulder as he had been taught and hit the catcher as hard as he could. The ball squirted loose and Goose Gosling stepped on home plate. The fans erupted in pandemonium and poured onto the field. In all the confusion no one noticed the first baseman retrieving the ball, racing to first, and tagging the base. He then appealed to the umpire, claiming that Goose had never touched first base. The umpire agreed with the first baseman and called Goose out. Many people are like Goose Gosling. They seem to be altogether successful. Everybody is cheering for them. They glitter with success. But if in the course of living, they never repent and claim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they never even make it to first base.

15) “I have lived my life the best I could.” Perhaps the most powerful movie I have ever watched is Saving Private Ryan. Tom Hanks, as Captain Miller, along with a ragtag squad of soldiers in World War II, give their lives in search of Private Ryan so he can be returned to his parents. Private Ryan's parents had already lost their other sons in that terrible war that many of you know first hand. As they move in the search of Private Ryan, they argue with one another and sometimes fight with one another, "Why on earth are we risking our lives for Private Ryan? He is probably not worth it anyway." Still, they push on. Finally at the big battle at the bridge, one by one, they give their lives for this no-named person called Private Ryan. Finally there is Captain Miller, lying wounded and taking his final breaths, looking up into the eye of the Private, saying just two words, "Earn it." The movie fast forwards and now Ryan is an old man. Once more he goes to the rows of crosses that help us remember the high price of our freedom. He finds the grave of Captain Miller and falls to his knees, saying, "Every day I think about what you said to me that day at the bridge. I have lived my life the best I could. I hope that was enough."

16) Miracle of new birth: One rainy Sunday afternoon, a little boy was bored and his father was sleepy. The father decided to create an activity to keep the kid busy. So, he found in the morning newspaper a large map of the world. He took scissors and cut it into a good many irregular shapes like a jigsaw puzzle. Then he said to his son, "See if you can put this puzzle together. And don't disturb me until you're finished." He turned over on the couch, thinking this would occupy the boy for at least an hour. To his amazement, the boy was tapping his shoulder ten minutes later telling him that the job was done. The father saw that every piece of the map had been fitted together perfectly. "How did you do that?" he asked. "It was easy, Dad. There was a picture of a man on the other side. When I got him together right, the world was right." A person's world can never be right until the person is right, and that requires the miracle of new birth. Don't you dare stop asking God for the experience of new birth until you can shout from the housetops, "Through Jesus Christ, God has fundamentally changed my life!"

SYNOPSIS FOR LENT IV (MARCH 18) ON JN 3: 14-21
Introduction

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare (Rejoice) Sunday, from the first words of today’s liturgy. As on Gaudete Sunday in Advent, rose-colored vestments may replace violet, with flowers on the altar symbolizing, the Church's joy in anticipation of the Resurrection of Our Lord. The central theme of today’s readings is that our salvation is the free gift of a merciful God given to us through Jesus His Son. The readings stress God’s mercy and compassion, the great love, kindness and grace extended to us in Christ.

Scripture Lessons

In the first reading from the Second Book of Chronicles, we learn the compassion and patience of God. God allowed Cyrus the Great, a pagan conqueror, to become the instrument of His mercy and salvation to His chosen people who were in exile in Babylon. In the second reading, Paul tells us that God is so rich in mercy that He has granted us eternal salvation and eternal life as a free gift through Christ Jesus. Today’s gospel has a parallel theme but on a much higher level. Jesus, the Son of God, became the agent of God's salvation, not just for one sinful nation but for the sinfulness of the whole world. Through John 3:16, the gospel teaches us that God expressed His love, mercy and compassion for us by giving His only Son for our salvation. Nicodemus, the wealthy Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, meets Jesus by night and begins a long religious discussion. Jesus explains to him that he must believe Jesus’ words because he is the Son of God. He further explains to Nicodemus God’s plan of salvation by referring to the story of Moses and the brazen serpent. Just as God saved the victims of serpent bite through the brazen serpent, He is going to save mankind from its sins by permitting the crucifixion and death of His Son Jesus because the love of God for mankind is that great.

Life Messages

1) We need to love the cross, the symbol of God’s forgiving and merciful love: As a forceful reminder not only of God's love and mercy, but also of the price of our salvation, the crucifix invites us to more than generosity and compassion. It inspires us to remove the suffering of other people’s misery. It encourages us not only to feel deep sorrow for another’s suffering but also to try our best to remove that suffering. Hence, let us love the cross, wear its image and carry our own daily cross with joy, while helping other to carry their heavier crosses.

2) We need to reciprocate God’s love by loving others. God’s love is unconditional, universal, forgiving and merciful. Let us try to make an earnest attempt to include these qualities in sharing our love with others during Lent.

3) Our rebirth by water and the Spirit must be an ongoing process. That is, we must lead a life of repentance and conversion bringing us to renewal of life, with the help of the Holy Spirit living within us, through prayer, Bible reading, frequenting the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Eucharist and doing corporal and spiritual deeds of mercy.