Saturday, March 14, 2015

4th Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: John 3:14-21) Freedom through the death of Jesus

Will we ever be good enough to get into heaven? I think that is a question that many of us ask and also are afraid of the answer. We know underneath that no matter how hard we try, we keep sinning, we keep struggling with what we know is not right, even if they are small things: gossip, addiction, impurity of one kind or another, resentment and so on. We always seem to fall short of the mark. It is something that I hear a lot in confession. People don’t say it directly, but you can often hear their fear. They know that they don’t seem to be improving.

When Jesus spoke to the Apostles about how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, they asked: ‘Then who can be saved?’ And he gave the disturbing and wonderful answer: ‘For people it is impossible; but not for God. Everything is possible for God.’

St. Paul, to whom Jesus appeared several times , talks about his own struggles with sin: 

I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.  ...the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf. Rom 7:14-24)

It is comforting to know that someone like St. Paul also struggled the way everyone else does. You can almost hear his frustration. He finishes up asking, 'Who will save me from this wretched state? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.' That is the key to it.
One of the most central teachings of our faith revolves around this point and so many people miss it. The point is that no matter how hard we try we will always fall short of the mark. We can never be good enough, or holy enough for God. But what’s even more important is that it doesn’t matter, because it is God himself who makes up the difference for us. The perfection that we cannot reach, God makes up  for us and this happens through the death and resurrection of Christ.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.

We hear this message all the time, but I think we don’t always appreciate what that means. It doesn’t just mean that God has won eternal life for us, but also that God makes up for us the goodness that we can not achieve ourselves. So even if we only manage to make it to 70% of the goodness we are supposed to have, God is the one who makes up the other 30%, or 40% or 95%. This is what the death and resurrection of Jesus means. God achieves for us what we cannot do ourselves. That is why we talk about the ‘freedom of the children of God.’ It gives us a freedom so that we don’t have to be afraid of whether we will be good enough to get to heaven or not. God has taken care of that for us. It means that we can be at peace.

Does that mean that we can do anything we want? Certainly not. St. Paul says in the letter to the
Philipians, ‘Continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling.’ In other words, don’t take it for granted. So we continue to try and live by the Commandments of God and do what is right, so that we will blossom as human beings and become the best version of ourselves that we can be, but as long as we stay open to God we need never be afraid.

God has created us to be with him in heaven. And God will make that happen unless we consciously and deliberately reject him. We do our best and although it will never be good enough for God it doesn’t matter, we can relax. We try to live as we are called to, but we can also be at peace as long as we remain open to God. That’s what it says in the second reading. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God.’

This is also what the whole mass is about; the forgiveness of sins. Remember the words the priest prays over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood, which will be shed for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven.’ There is no need for us to be afraid. Everything has already been taken care of.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.

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