4th Sunday of Lent. March 15, 2015
2 Chr 36:14-16,19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21
When our history is not perfect
I recently came across a quote that made me chuckle with a nod of agreement: “When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future.”
But what happens when you are the one who keeps reminding yourself of your bad past? What do you do when you just cannot get over the moral failures and pains of the past? What do you do when everything and everyone seems to bring back the painful and regretful past that you wish to forget?
The chronicler in today’s First Reading gives a summary of Israel’s regrettable history of unrepentant infidelity. They “added infidelity to infidelity,” and in their stubbornness of heart, “they mocked the messengers of God, despised their warnings, and scoffed at God’s prophets.” As a result, they suffered a painful exile and loss of their city and temple and “those who escaped the sword of their enemies were carried captive to Babylon.” But despite their bad history, God’s saving and liberating love was offered to them through Cyrus the Persian king who liberated them and sent them back home and helped them rebuild the temple and their city. The message is clear: God’s love for His people was always effective and not dependent on their history.
In speaking to the Jewish teacher Nicodemus in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus reminds him of the history of the Jews’ infidelity to God and likened His saving mission to what the Jews experienced in the wilderness: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” In the desert, the Jews lost patience, complained and rebelled against God, and suffered the painful and mortal bites from the serpents. God did not take away the serpents from them as they requested Him to do: “Pray the Lord to take the serpents away from us.” But God provided a means to give them life despite their deadly pains from the snake bites. “Whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered.” (Numbers 21:9) The poisonous serpents remained but God’s life giving love was offered and experienced by those who chose to look up to the serpent on the pole. Once again the message is clear: God’s merciful love that heals is not dependent on the history of his people.
Like the serpents that remained with the Israelites, our history will remain a part of us, no matter how painful or sinful it may be. We cannot wish it away or pray it away. Reminding the devil of his future does not diminish the hurts of the past too. The bronze serpent is only a poor symbol of the merciful love of God in Jesus Christ that is offered to us regardless of our past history. In Jesus Christ, God’s life-giving love is offered to us at every moment even as the memories of our past infidelities are still clear in our minds. Like the Israelites, we have a choice to make – either fixate on the pains and the sinful regrets of the past or look up with hope to the one who was Crucified that we may have life?
Indeed, Jesus has not come to “condemn the world but that the world be saved through Him.” Jesus is the light that comes into this world and the first thing that this light reveals to us is our sinful history. Seeing our history in His light, we are tempted to “hate the light and not come toward the light” because “our works are evil.” But this light of Christ that reveals is also a light that liberates us from sin and gives us life.
We choose self-condemnation when we choose to live in the past and define our present by the things that we did or suffered in the past. How many times have I heard Christians mourn and regret their past sins even after they have brought these sins before the throne of mercy in the Sacrament of Confession? How many times have I heard people reject the love of God today because of the pains of life? How badly we need to be reminded that God’s love for us is ever effective and does not depend on our history at all. We must accept our history together with the saving love and grace that God offers at each moment.
I will allow St. Paul have the final word in this case. He teaches us that “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love that He had for us, even while we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.” If God’s love for us was so effective while we were dead in our transgressions, can we even fathom His love for us now that we have been “brought to life in Christ and seated with Him in the heavens with Christ?” Take this from one who persecuted the Church and then suffered a lot for the sake of the faith. His message is clear: God’s love for us now is not conditioned on our history.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how are we dealing with memories of the past? How do we respond to that voice that says within our heads, “How could I have done that?” How do we deal with that nagging thought that maybe we have been abandoned by God because of our sins? In what ways are we succumbing to doubt in God’s love because of the pains of the present? Our histories may not be perfect. It is definitely not enough to remind the devil of his future. We must also accept that, though our past may be filled with pains and regrets, God’s love for us remains effective no matter what the past has been.
No matter the pains and regrets we may have had in the past, we hear the voice of divine love say to us in today’s Eucharistic celebration, “This is my body, this is my blood, given up for you.” This love is so effective to make His saving love present to us under the forms of bread and wine. It is the voice of divine love that does not consider our history but longs to share His life with us today. If we choose to focus on this love that is offered to us constantly and refuse to live in the past, we will have life today despite the painful memories of the past.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!