Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

March 10: Fourth Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Return to homeland

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

The arrangement of the books in the Jewish Bible differs from that in the Christian Old Testament. The latter ends with the book of Malachai, which looks forward to the appearance of Elijah who will come before the Messiah comes. The Gospels interpret the expected Elijah as referring to John the Baptist, who is Jesus’ precursor (Mt 14:10; Lk 1:17).

The last book in the Jewish Bible, however, is Second Chronicles. Today’s first reading is the final verses of that book.

The reading begins by explaining the cause of the disasters that fell upon the people of Judah at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. Their enemies invaded the land of Judah, bringing devastation on its towns and countryside, destroying the temple of Jerusalem and forcing many Judeans to migrate to Babylon.

Chronicles asserts that cause of these disasters was the failure of Judah’s priests and people to maintain their commitment to serve God alone. They refused to listen to the prophets, who warned them of the consequences of their persistent infidelity. Chronicles does not excuse the people’s failures nor diminish their seriousness. The book leads its readers to recognize what brought the fortunes pf the people of Judah so low.

The responsorial psalm is a lament that expresses the determination of the Judeans living far from their homeland to keep the memory of Jerusalem alive. That memory makes their exile even more bitter since they saw no change on the horizon.

The final verses of today’s first reading shift the mood of the passage dramatically as they affirm that judgment was not God’s last word to the people of Judah. There would be a restoration of the people to God’s good graces.

That restoration began with the rise of Cyrus the Great, who encouraged the Judeans living in Babylon to make their way back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Cyrus credits the God of Israel with his victories. He also asserts that God charged him to replace the temple of Jerusalem that lay in ruins. Cyrus encourages the exiled Judeans to make their way to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.

The reading from Ephesians redirects our attention to our own experience of having been forgiven. Like the liberation of the Judeans from exile in Babylon, the forgiveness we received was a pure act of God’s grace. None of us earned what God has done for us. If our life with God depended on our potential for doing good, we would have no reason to hope. We bring only our faith in the forgiveness that God offers us.

One verse of the Gospel lesson encapsulates the good news about what God offers us through Jesus Christ: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Jesus affirms that his mission was not to announce judgment and condemnation but to proclaim mercy and forgiveness. God offers these to us freely and unreservedly. For this we can only give thanks.

The final words that appear in the Jewish Bible call the exiles in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild not merely the temple but also their life with God. Since those words were written, the Jewish people scattered throughout the world hoped that the day will come when they could return to Jerusalem. That day has come, and many Jews from the Diaspora have made their way to Jerusalem and their ancestral homeland.

The Jewish people, however, have not come to Jerusalem alone. They have been joined by others who believe in the one God, fulfilling the oracles of the prophets who envisioned the nations coming to Jerusalem to join the people of Israel in the worship of the one God.

Like the Jewish people, Christians and Muslims revere Jerusalem. Political and religious disputes have complicated the fulfillment of the prophets’ vision. We ought to pray for the peace of Jerusalem so that all believers can worship the one God with tolerance and mutual respect.


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