All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abomination of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; 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.
They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, 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: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, 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."
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
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. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
Jesus said, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
"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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 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 clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
A grimy painting hung for many years on the wall of a dining room in a Jesuit house in Dublin. No one paid much attention to it until one day someone realized that this could be a work of great value. Under investigation by art experts, it turned out that this painting was the work of no less than the great Caravaggio of Rome. His painting of the arrest of Jesus in the garden now hangs in our National Art Gallery, and is one of the Gallery's great treasures. All that time it had hung in the dining room, it was no less a treasure, but its real value went unrecognized. It hung there waiting for someone to recognize its true worth, its value as a work of art.
In the second reading Paul states that "we are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life." Like that painting, we can go unnoticed as a work of art, especially to ourselves. We don't tend to think of ourselves as a work of art. Yet, as Paul reminds us in our second reading, God sees us as works of art. Like the person who spotted the Caravaggio painting, God knows our true worth, our true value, and through the prophet Isaiah says, "You are precious in my sight, and I love you." We are as God's works of art, precious in his sight.
We can think of other people as works of art also. These are people we value greatly, people we treasure, whose worth to us is beyond price. When someone is a treasure to us, we don't count the cost in their regard. We will do anything we can for them. We will travel long distances to see them; we will stay up half the night to be with them if they are ill; we will defend and protect them with all our passion when necessary. We keep faith in them, be faithful to them, even when that makes great demands on us. We value them, simply, for who they are.
Our experience of how we relate to those we value gives us a glimpse of how the Lord relates to us. God loves us in a way that does not count the cost. The gospel today expresses that truth simply: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son." God sent us his Son out of love for us and that sending became a giving when his Son was put to death on a cross. As Paul says in the second reading, "God loved us so much that he was generous with his mercy." We are of such value in God's eyes that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all. It is therefore not surprising that the cross has become the dominant symbol of Christianity. It is not because we glorify suffering, but because in the cross we recognise the extent to which God is prepared to go for love of us.
Have you noticed the types of phrases we use when describing something wonderful? I hear people saying things like being 'over the moon' or 'on cloud-nine.' A friend talks about being in the 'seventh heaven!' Now, that admission may say a lot both of us, but I can't help thinking that our deepest experiences are those that have a power to lift us up. Such experiences take us out of ourselves. They uplift us and we perceive things differently.
Jesus is always inviting us to see things differently. When Nicodemus sought out Jesus, he was in the dark â€" both really and symbolically. He couldn't see clearly. In the years that followed this late night conversation, Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus and, step by step, was drawn to see things differently. At last he finally did see. When at the end, Jesus was really and truly lifted up, Nicodemus was not too far away.
When we meditate on the crucifix and participate in the Eucharist we also see Jesus lifted up. Perhaps today as I lift my eyes to see him, I might ponder on the mystery of suffering and exaltation and wonder at the love that is lifted up and draws us ever closer, uplifting us as well. (Kathryn Williams)
We have become very aware in recent weeks of how the days are getting longer. We are half way through the month of Mar. and already it is bright up until after six o'clock. We have even brighter days to look forward to, especially as the clock goes forward next weekend. The brighter evenings brings everybody out. With the increase in light, there is also an increase in growth. The first blossoms of spring have already come out. Nature is coming to life after a time of hibernation.
The gospel this morning is in keeping with what is happening in nature. It declares that 'light has come into the world'. The light there is a reference to the light of God that has come into the world through Jesus. Both the second reading and the gospel make clear that the light of God is the light of love. The second reading declares that God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy; it speaks of God's goodness towards us in Christ, the infiniteness richness of God's grace in Christ. The gospel declares that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son. In the light that Jesus brings from God we find mercy, compassion, great love, kindness, infinite grace. Sometimes we don't like too much light. There is a certain kind of light that can expose us mercilessly, like the light of the interrogator's lamp. However, Jesus brings a light that need hold no fear for us; it is a divine light that lifts us up, just as the Son of Man was lifted up, in the words of the gospel reading. Here is a light that assures us of our worth and that helps us to see the goodness that is within us and the good that we are capable of doing. It is a light that, in the words of the second reading, allows us to recognize that 'we are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live a good life'. It is the light of a love that shines upon us regardless of what we have done or failed to do. As the first reading reminds us, God's grace, God's love, comes to us not on the basis of anything we have done. It is not something we earn by our efforts; it comes to us as a pure gift. When God gave his Son to the world, did not ask whether the world was worthy of his Son or whether the world was ready for his Son. Even when the world crucified God's Son, God did not take back his Son from the world. Rather, God continued to give his Son to the world, raising him from the dead and sending him back into the world through the Holy Spirit, through the church. Here is a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome, in the words of the gospel of John.
We all long for that kind of light, a light that is strong and enduring, a light that can be found at the heart of darkness and that is more resilient than darkness. We have all experienced darkness in one shape or form. It may be the darkness of sickness, or of the death of a loved one or the darkness of failure; we may struggle from time to time with the darkness of depression, with those dark demons that tell us that we are worthless and that life is not worth living. Something of that darkness of spirit finds expression in today's responsorial psalm. It was composed from the darkness of exile in Babylon. 'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, remembering Zion'. We may have known our own experiences of exile in its various forms, times when we felt cut off from what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. The readings this morning assure us that in all those forms of darkness, a light shines â€" the light of God's enduring love that is constantly at work in our lives so that we may have life and have it to the full. In the words of the gospel again, 'God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him" may have eternal life'.
Even though this wonderful light has come into the world and wants to shine upon us all, we can be reluctant to step into that light, and allow it to shine upon us. In the words of the gospel reading, 'though the light has come into the world, people have shown that they prefer darkness to the light'. This is the mysterious capacity of human freedom to reject the light, to turn away from a faultless love and a boundless mercy. Yet, our coming to the light is often a gradual process; it can happen slowly, at our own pace. The Lord is always prepared to wait on us; he waits for our free response. We are not used to a love that is as generous, as merciful, as rich in grace and goodness as God's love; it takes us time to receive it, to believe in it, to embrace it. Receiving God's love and then living out of that gift is the calling and task of a life time