As we journey through the first days of Lent, Tim O’Malley, reflecting on the First…
Opening the Word: The seriousness of Christianity
Does the preaching in your parish capture the seriousness of what Christianity proposes to men and women?
This seriousness is proclaimed each Sunday. Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of the Father, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who suffered under the regime of Pontius Pilate, who died as a criminal upon the cross and who rose again on the third day.
Or are you more often the recipient of comfortable platitudes? Be a good person. Practice stewardship. Make sure you start the day with prayer.
The thing about platitudes is that they are often not wrong. Being a good person is certainly better than hating your neighbor. We should pray each day.
|March 14 – Fourth Sunday of Lent|
2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23
Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
The problem with platitudes is that when disconnected from the narrative of salvation, of what the Father has accomplished through the Son, they become a self-help program for the comfortable.
On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, God wants us to be uncomfortable, to face the truth of the human condition.
In the proclamation from Chronicles, we are thrown into the divine judgment of the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. The whole people were unfaithful to the covenant, they polluted the Temple, and they ignored the Law.
God warned them. The prophets came and announced the possibility of judgment. There will come a time, they said, when the anger of the Lord will not be contained. Judgment will happen.
The people mocked the prophets. The Babylonians came to conquer Jerusalem. They burnt the Temple. The people were placed in exile.
Chronicles announces that this destruction of Jerusalem was God’s way of responding to the darkness, to the hardness of heart of his beloved people. If the people of Judah will not let the land lie fallow, if they are so obsessed with profit and prestige that they will not care for the widow or orphan, then the Lord God will give the land the rest it deserves.
A strange text to be paired with our Gospel from John. The verse we all know, John 3:16, proclaims the love of the Father who sent the Son for the redemption of the world.
But the text begins by recognizing the seriousness of why the Son was sent in the first place.
When the people had rebelled against God, poisonous serpents threatened their welfare. Moses intervened, raising his staff up in the desert. The staff became a serpent and saved Israel from destruction.
The Son came into the world in an analogous way. He, too, will be raised up high upon the cross to save the world.
But this salvation, as John makes painfully clear, is needed because of the conflict between light and darkness. People prefer the darkness to the light. They reject the one who comes into the world to give the light.
Dear friends, we are no different than those sons and daughters of Israel in the desert, than our forebears in Jerusalem. The human heart still prefers darkness to light.
If our preaching and teaching do not capture this fact, then we do not announce Good News to the world in Jesus Christ. We proclaim a benign, pleasant teacher who comes to raise our spirits.
This is not the Gospel. Sin exists. We love the darkness. Our hearts have grown cold. We, too, prefer profit over the cries of the widow and orphan.
Now, dear friends, is the time for conversion. The light shines upon the cross in your sanctuary this day. It proclaims the love of God who came to redeem a world accustomed to darkness.
This Lent, let us preach this Good News.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.