Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent – Cycle B 2021
II Chronicles 36:14-16; 19-23
Several years ago, some of us in the monastery circulated and enjoyed the Pulitzer prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The title reflects two very disparate uses of light to counterpoint blindness and radio waves --both significant parts of the interwoven World War II plots. Although light is not presented as illustrated in today’s Gospel of John, it opens us to explore the many ways we interrelate with light—visible or invisible.
We long for the light. We bemoan the short days of the season and cherish watching the sun come up and for light to still be present in the evening. Today we turned our clocks ahead, and we have been muttering about the loss of the early morning light for several weeks now. We not only long for physical light but also spiritual light—the Light of the World. Our Lenten disciplines move us out of our patterns of other times to focus our seeking to recognize more intently God’s work in our lives and signs of our spiritual growth.
In John’s Gospel, we eavesdrop on the one recorded dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, a character only mentioned in this Gospel. It is significant that it occurs at night when Nicodemus, a Jewish pharisee of significant reputation, seeks out Jesus to engage him to reveal his identity and to clarify what Nicodemus cannot comprehend—rebirth in water and the Spirit. We see his rabbinic struggle to make sense of its meaning.
We see in Nicodemus a longing for spiritual light, yet the secrecy of nightfall is when he ventures forth to seek Jesus. It’s risky, a choice with significant consequences in a time when opposition to Jesus is increasing. The character of Nicodemus features more prominently in the series, The Chosen, than in the few references in the Gospel of John. In that series we see more layers of his character as he wrestles to accept who Jesus is. In the end of the first season, although recognizing that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, Nicodemus cannot make the final commitment to leave everything behind to follow him. There are family considerations, image considerations, wealth considerations. It is the constant dilemma for many Christians—how total is our commitment to follow where Christ beckons? Where is our blindness? As in the parable of the rich young man…”he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” Mark 10:22
This Gospel selection also contains one of the most well-known passages of the New Testament. Seen on billboards, clothing, jewelry, John 3:16 summarizes God’s action in sending salvation to the world… ”for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Yes, I learned the King James version as a Protestant child, and after nearly 50 years as a Catholic, those words are still the ones imbedded in my mind. And, as a child, I learned to love God.
According to the small spiral notebook my mother kept, holding the early words and deeds of my brother and me (she named it “baby’s bright sayings”), I was part of a dramatic presentation at church when I was three or four years old. My line, blurted out with gusto—according to her, was “God is love.”
Much of the past year has been spent clinging to hope in a time of pandemic, searching for joy amid the many tragedies of lost lives and diminished income, political upheaval… and inspiring stories of neighbors extending themselves seemingly beyond human limitations. Today we rejoice on this Laetare Sunday; not only is Lent at its midpoint, but our reflection reminds us that our celebrations of Advent and Lent are inextricably linked by these “hinge” Sundays. We rejoice not only in Christ’s incarnation but also on his passion, death and resurrection.
In these three Sundays in the middle of Lent, the Elect celebrate scrutinies in preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil. The period of final preparation is known as “purification and enlightenment,” for these ritual prayers are meant to lead the candidate to identify and reject sin of both a personal and communal nature. As we make that journey in solidarity with them, may God’s light shine through the darkness and purify our hearts.