'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...' -- Jn 3:16

On the fourth Sunday of Lent, the first reading (2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23) brings us again to the temple and the image of its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BC. This destruction came upon the temple, Jerusalem and its inhabitants as a result of their repeated infidelities. The people were exiled, and the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed.

In the reading, we are told that the Lord inspired Cyrus, king of Persia, to allow the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the house of the Lord. Why this reversal of fortunes?

We might also ask ourselves why, when we have committed so many infidelities, small and great, does God continually bring us back? He allows us to rebuild His house in our souls time and time again.

Both the return of the exiles and the interior renewal we experience in God's forgiveness are unmerited by us. Simply because God is God, because He has always loved Israel and will always love Israel, He reestablishes them.

God loves you

Simply because He has always loved you and will always love you, He forgives you of your sins, time and time again. This is what St. Paul explains in Sunday's second reading (Eph 2:4-10): "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."

Now is the time, therefore, to look the Son of Man in the face as He is lifted up for you. In the Gospel (Jn 3:14-21), Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, foretells His own crucifixion. John the evangelist then explains the purpose of the crucifixion: "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).

It is Jesus' desire to die for us, to lose His life so that we might live.

If I am at a place where this means nothing to me, where these are just empty words, then it might be helpful to pray for the desire to understand them. It is not uncommon for people to love darkness rather than light, because darkness hides our sins and blinds us to ourselves and to God.

Into the light

God, of course, is not fooled by our hiding. The reason He asks us to step into the light is so that we might have a true relationship with Him and so that our "deeds may be wrought in God" (Jn 3:21). We were made for that relationship. We were made to walk with God.

There is a wonderful line from an ancient homily preached on Holy Saturday that speaks to this. In the homily, the priest explains that there is silence all over the Earth because the king is asleep. He says that Jesus has gone down to hell to find Adam. When Jesus finds him, He says, "I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth! And those in darkness: Have light! And those who sleep: Rise! I command you: Awake, o sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in hell."

The same is true for us: We were not created to be held prisoner in hell. Rather, as St. Paul says, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10).