Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23, Ps. 137:1-6, Ephesians 2:4-10, John 3:14-21

“For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (John 3:20-21)

On the First Sunday of Lent, we read the story of Noah, in which God destroyed the world with water because mankind’s sins had become unbearable. God even regretted creating us. Only Noah was found to be good, so he was spared in the Ark. Today’s First Reading chronicles the history of the Israelites. Even though they were the chosen people of God, the people of the covenant, the descendants of Noah, they also preferred darkness to light, living in sin and practising the abominable practices of the nations around them.

As we hear Jesus say to Nicodemus in our Gospel passage today, it seems there is something about us humans that makes us “love darkness rather than light.” (John 3:19). What makes evil more attractive than good? Why do we prefer darkness to light? Is there any remedy for this attraction to evil that we often feel within us? These questions bring us to our lessons for today:

1. Evil Is Attractive When The Flesh Controls Us
As our First Reading states, the corruption of the people of Israel began from the altar of God, from the priests. “All the leading priests and the people were exceedingly unfaithful….” Do you remember our Gospel passage from last Sunday? Jesus drove out those selling animals and exchanging money in the temple. The house of prayer had become a den of robbers. When those who are supposed to be showing others the light start living in darkness, what becomes of the nation? When salt loses its taste, it becomes good for nothing other than to be trampled underfoot. (Cf. Matthew 5:13).

Why do we humans prefer evil to good? St. Paul offers an answer: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh… For this reason, the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law-- indeed, it cannot, and those in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8). This is the secret.

As long as we are only concerned about our flesh and desires, we cannot please God. We begin to see the commandments of God as a burden. Sin becomes so enticing, and we begin to add infidelity to infidelity. A mind that is set on the flesh is always hostile to God. Do I seek to please God, or do I only care about the desires of my flesh? Do you remember David, the man after God’s heart? Why did he fall from grace? He wanted to satisfy the desires of his flesh.

2. The Beauty of Shame: Our Natural Defence Against Sin.
Speaking of David, do you notice how he tried to cover up his affair with Beersheba when he noticed she had become pregnant? The first thing he did was to invite Uriah, her husband, a very loyal soldier of his who was fighting in the battle against the enemies of Israel. David gave Uriah so much food and drink and wanted him to go home to his wife, but Uriah did not consider himself to deserve such luxury when his colleagues were out on the battlefield. After two days of food and drinks, David saw that this wasn’t working out, so he tactically killed Uriah by sending him to the front lines, where the battle was fiercest.

David thought he was smart, but as Jesus would advise us, there is nothing secret under the sun. “For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” (Matthew 10:26). Everything David did behind closed doors became known all over the kingdom. David lost his moral integrity. He could not keep his household together anymore; his son committed incest, and another son of his made him run for his dear life as he once ran from Saul.

When we begin to contemplate evil, we assume we could be smart. We value our good name, but at the same time, we want to “enjoy” the sin. Instead of just saying “NO” to the devil, as Jesus did during His temptations in the wilderness, we start thinking of how to hide the sin from the public. Jesus was talking about this when He said to Nicodemus: “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:20-21).

If you know that what you plan to do will make you ashamed if the whole world knows about it, then don’t do it. How long will you live in the fear of being discovered? How much longer before that secret deed becomes exposed? Cherish your shame. Let it be your guard against evil.

3. God’s Mercy Is Inexhaustible, Like a River That Never Runs Dry
The sins of our age are far worse than those of the people of Noah’s time. We all deserve to die, but what keeps us alive is God’s mercy. St. Paul teaches us this in today’s Second Reading, taken from his letter to the Ephesians. Does this mean that God overlooks us regardless of what we do? Of course, there is an extent to which tolerance of evil becomes consent to evil. Hence, we need to understand how God’s mercy operates.

First, God Sends Warnings:
As our First Reading put it: “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.” (2 Chronicles 36:15). Even as you listen to (or read) this message, God is sending you a warning. Repent from the darkness. Stop that evil you are doing. You think nobody knows; it is a lie. God knows, and soon enough, the world will know. Repent now before it is too late.

Second, as Part of God’s Mercy, He Allows us to Suffer:
Our First Reading continues: “…but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.” (2 Chronicles 36:16). There is an extent to which a child who you love so much would do something. You will be left with no option but to spank that child. This happens when we face the wrath of God as a consequence of our evil deeds. Like the children of Israel, we are made to go into exile, to a place where we get to taste life outside of our Father’s House so that we would see for ourselves the truth that the reward of sin is death.

Third, God Gives us A Second Chance:  
There was nothing the children of Israel could have done on their own to free themselves from exile. Nothing! It is just out of God’s mercy that He decided to cause a pagan king to release the captives. As our First Reading puts it: “The Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: …the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).

Just as the people of Israel did nothing of their merit to deserve their return from exile, St. Paul tells us today that God saved us not by our own doing but not because of our works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Truly, none of us deserve God’s mercy, and none of us can boast.

4. Let us Reciprocate God’s Mercy by Loving Him as He Loved Us.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent. It is also known as the Laetare Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. What should make us happy? On this Sunday, our readings remind us of the great thing God did for us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16). If God so loved us that for our sake, He allowed His only Son, Jesus, to die as an atonement for our reconciliation and renewal of the covenant with Him, it means we would be ungrateful if we continue to walk in darkness rather than embrace the light.

Some years ago, I heard on the radio the story of a guy who sold his father’s land to buy the latest iPhone for a lady. He presented the phone to her as her Valentine’s Day Gift, stating that he loved her and was ready to do anything for her. The next day, the lady posted pictures of her engagement to another guy and their wedding invitation on her social media handles. What would you do if you were this guy who sold his father’s land to buy the phone? The real question is, “What do we expect God to do after He sacrificed His only Son on our behalf, and we still chase after other gods?”

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, teach me to constantly reject sin that my life may be to your glory. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday). Bible Study: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23, Ps. 137:1-6, Ephesians 2:4-10, John 3:14-21).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu