God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believed in him may not die but have Eternal Life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.
– John 3
One of the purposes of the Lenten discipline of the church is to help us understand and live by two great truths; (1) the depths of evil involved in human sin and (2) the depth of God’s love involved in the redemption of the world.
When we look at the Cross with faith, we see the incomprehensible love of God who has delivered his own Son over to this cruel fate to save the world from its richly deserved fate of self-destruction. One of the worst consequences of sin is a blindness caused in the heart of the sinner, an insensitivity to the evil of sin itself. How else do we explain the constant tendency of even God’s chosen people to fall back into sin, into the infidelity piled on infidelity that marks the history of the original chosen people. Today’s first reading even accuses them of practicing the abominations of the nations, which included human sacrifice at the nadir of their history, and of polluting even God’s temple in Jerusalem, for which abominations God allowed the temple to be destroyed and allowed his people to be handed over to their enemies in the Babylonian exile. This was the only way that God could cure them of their blindness to the evil of their ways, to subject them to the crucible of suffering for seventy years in Babylon. And yet this very remedy shows the love of God for them in spite of their infidelities and evils, he wanted to restore their dignity and restore them to their homeland.
But this blindness to the evil of sin, which leads to repeated infidelities and imitating the abominations of the nations is not limited to the first chosen people, for the history of God’s new chosen people, the New Israel established by Christ, has also been scarred by the same tendency to sin and unfaithfulness, even though the Church has always also had her core of saints whose fidelity to God has been the greatest fruit of the Cross of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, the history of sin did not end with the old covenant, only the history of helplessness before this plague of the human race, for God so loved the world that He gave us His son to deliver us from our own self-destruction by the grace of his Cross.
The Cross of Jesus is the only effective way we have to discover the true evil of sin, to become sensitive to and horrified by the reality of sin. If sin cost this much to be overcome, cost the death of God’s only-begotten Son, then what a truly horrific thing sin must be. When Jesus is lifted up between heaven and earth on the cross, then will men be able to see the horror of their sins, for what it has done to God’s son, and then will they have the hope of repenting this evil by opening themselves to His forgiveness and grace, symbolized by the embracing openness of his arms on the Cross. But, conversion, genuine conversion begins always at the foot of the Cross, and consists of a confession of the sin that caused His death. Only with such a recognition of the evil of my sins, and a true repentance can I access the mercy of God that flows in the blood of Christ.
But the recognition of the evil of sin is only the first lesson of the Cross, the greater is the truth that God so loved the world… In spit of everything, in spite of the countless betrayals of his love and infidelities to His love, the sins beyond imagining of the human race, still, God so love the world, that he gave his only son, not to condemn, but to save the world. Such love too is beyond our capacity to understand, much more beyond our understanding than is the evil of sin. Where do we find such love in this world? How many times can any one of us be betrayed, have someone we love be unfaithful to us, before we can no longer find forgiveness or love in our hearts? Yet a whole universe of sin has not caused God to stop loving the world he created, and has not kept him from delivering his own Son into the hands of sinners to save the world. How can we understand such love, if not by clinging with heart and soul to the Cross on which this love was nailed for our salvation. His arms were open, because he loved us all to the end.
The world, in all its sinfulness, does not get finally condemned for any of its sins, since the price has been paid to redeem the whole world, by God’s only Son. The final condemnation comes from a refusal to believe in God’s Son, that is, in God’s love which has sent the Son to redeem the world. This is the first and the ultimate sin of the world, the refusal to believe in God’s love which so love by which the world was so loved that God sent His only Son to redeem it’s sins: “Whoever believes in Him avoids condemnation; but whoever does not believe is already condemned.” Sinners are condemned not simply on account of their sins, for from these they have been redeemed by Jesus if only they put their faith in Him and begin anew to walk in His light. The judgement upon them is that they refuse to believe in Him and refuse to walk in His light. For if they believed
in Jesus they would no longer walk in the darkness of their sins, but lead new lives in the light of Jesus’ teaching and by the power of His grace.
In contrast to the incomprehensible love of God of has given his only son for us sinners, is the fear of the unrepentant sinner who does not even come near the light of Christ “for fear his deeds will be exposed. Why is the sinner afraid his deeds will be exposed, in the light, unless he does not believe in God’s love, God’s will to redeem him from his sins? This fear which results from a failure to believe in God’s love appeared in the very first human sin in the garden, when our first parents failed to believe in God’s love, and refused to trust that his commandment was for their well-being, rather than God’s own well-being. The same attitude of disbelief leads t fear in the sinner in every age, and keeps the unrepentant from walking in God’s light, lest his sin be exposed to that light.
The unrepentant is afraid to repent, why? Because, lacking faith, he is afraid that the way of God will mean unhappiness, whereas the way of sin at least some temporary gratification, some temporary pleasure or happiness. The unrepentant fails to believe in God’s love, that it is God’s love, and only God’s love that can make us happy in a permanent way. He fears repentance and conversion because he fears that it will bring unhappiness. That is the great lie of the Father of Lies, to make man distrust God’s love, to disbelieve that God’s love is man’s happiness, and this love went to such lengths – the sacrifice of Jesus – to redeem man from his own self-destruction by sin.
Lent is meant to focus our attention once again on these great mysteries of our salvation: the evil and self-destructiveness of sin, and the incomprehensible love of God for his sinful children. The Cross stands at the heart of creation to remind us of this truth that God so loved the world, and to draw our hearts and minds to that love which knows no limits in its mercy. As St. Paul says in today’s second reading.
God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ
Yes, “we are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus,” indeed recreated “to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.” May we take these words to heart this Lent, and know more deeply the mercy and love of God in our lives, and the joy of the new life he has given us in Jesus Christ.