- Have you ever been rescued before? What did that feel like?
- At some point in your life, you will very likely be asked if you are saved and how you know that you are saved. How would you respond to that question?
Gospel Reading: John 19: 30 – 42
Catholics would say that we were saved by Christ on the cross. We cannot simply say that Jesus saved us on the cross and then live according to the same old sinful patterns in life. We must make every effort to change our lives and live according to Jesus’ example.
It is because of Jesus’ love for us to the very end that he ultimately gave his sacrifice redeeming value. It is because of Jesus’ love for us to the end that his death atoned and made satisfaction for our sins. It is the life he led and gave us that is salvific. We are called to live like Jesus and give our life in his service too. It is not Jesus’ death alone that is the means of rescue or redemption; rather, it is Jesus’ WHOLE LIFE, offered up selflessly and sacrificially in service for the good of others, even unto death.
Satisfaction is a tricky concept when it comes to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Why should he have to make satisfaction? When one thinks objectively about what satisfaction means, it would seem that satisfaction should be made by the one who commits the offense, not someone who is innocent. (We, in fact, make satisfaction when we are given a penance in the sacrament of reconciliation.)
St. Thomas Aquinas explains this by telling us that satisfaction comes about when the maker of satisfaction (Jesus) offers to the one offended (God) something that delights him more than his hatred of the offense. Jesus’ self-sacrificing love and obedience, the worthiness of his life (he was, after all, both God and a human being), the utter horror of his passion and the sorrow it caused him outweighed the malice of sin. The satisfaction that Jesus offered on the cross is greater than the offense committed by humanity.
God not only causes salvation, God is salvation. God is perfect fulfillment and happiness. True salvation means we are completely fulfilled and know true peace and salvation.
From Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God:
We have a God of “pathos”, a divine care for the world. Our God of pathos feels intensely: loves, cares, is glad, gets angry over injustice, urges, prods, forgives, is disappointed, gets frustrated, suffers righteous indignation, weeps, grieves, promises, pours out mercy, rejoices, consoles, wipes away tears and loves some more.
Dorothy Soelle on the divine power of the cross:
- It is selfless love. Jesus is a man for others, having only his love. This leads him to die powerless on the cross, with no armies, no magic tricks to save him.
- It is a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. In raising Jesus from the dead, God instills hope for all, for everything, even the dead.
- It is call to solidarity. We can know God’s love only when we become a part of it ourselves. We can know the God of compassion only in committed resistance to every form of unjust suffering inflicted on others.
- Have you ever thought about what makes our faith special? What are your beliefs about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection?
- What sacrifices have you made? Did the good outweigh the loss? What did love have to do with it?
- When you venerate the cross on Good Friday, what will you hold in your heart?
- If others could only watch how you spend your time, how you spend your money, what you love, who you love, do you think they would see that Jesus has risen from the dead?
- What is something you can do TODAY to be more like Jesus?
1st Reading – 2 Chronicles 36: 14 – 23
Along with Ezra and Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles represent a type of ‘history’ of the people of Israel from their origins to the period of reconstruction AFTER the exile. The world had changed. The author exalts David even more than he is exalted in Kings 1 & 2; the exile was viewed more as the people’s failure to worship Yahweh. But in today’s reading, we hear God hating the sin but loves the sinner. God is always ready to forgive at the first sign of a repentant heart, (M. Birmingham’s W&W Wkbk for Yr B, p. 214).
“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the person who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness,” (J.C. Arnold’s Why Forgive?, p. 44).
2nd Reading – Ephesians 2: 4-10
The theology in this letter is in sharp contrast to the retributive-type justice we see in the first reading. How does this writer see God working in human history?
To many Greeks philosophical systems and self-improvement ideas were seen as ways to great human capabilities. To them the ‘saving act’ was knowledge. The Christian writer who composed this letter is trying to emphasize that ‘salvation’ is God’s transforming gift to sinners. The writer was trying to stress that God’s great love (revealed and given freely to us in Jesus) is not a reward for good works or great knowledge. Yet, a life of good deeds is the natural outcome, (Celebration, March 2003).
God is personal. God is not a by-itself, or an in-itself, or an in-and-of itself, but rather God exists in a communion of persons toward one another in self-giving Love, revealed in Word and Spirit in human life, in history, in the world. God is immutably toward us and for us in the self-giving Love that is constitutive of the divine life. All reality is personal. Everything that exists is from God, in God, for God, who is God precisely in the relations of interpersonal self-giving Love: Father, Son, Spirit, (M. Downey’s Altogether Gift, p. 62).
The Gospel – John 3: 14-21
John’s Gospel is one of darkness and light; this contrast is used throughout it. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night (verse 2) looking for new life. We later find Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion anointing Jesus’ body with over a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes. (John 19: 38-42)
In the Book of Numbers the Israelites while wandering in the desert complained about being hungry, thirsty, — then when serpents began to bite them, they were sure that God was punishing them. Moses prayed to God and God told Moses to make a fiery serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole. Anyone bitten by a snake could look upon the bronze serpent and be saved from death. In this gospel, Jesus compared himself to this serpent — the one lifted up who can save us from death. (Sunday by Sunday, March 2003)
The contradiction in the paschal mystery is that what we abhor — the cross — becomes the instrument of redemption. God saves Israelites from death. Yet, in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ we must embrace death for the only way to eternal life is by dying to ourselves. In this ‘dying’ we can then allow ourselves to be lifted up like Christ. Our good works — reaching out to others, working to improve the world around us, caring and acting kindly and justly– all of this is ‘being lifted up’ — being crucified so we might live. We sometimes choose to do difficult things – not because the suffering is good but because the end is good. (Living Liturgy, 2003)
Light and believing is important in this gospel. The light = Christ who enables us to see; seeing is believing — it is also activity. John’s gospel uses the verb believe 98 times — never is the noun used. Both believing and not believing is expressed in actions. Those who do not believe hate the light and do ‘wicked things’ and their ‘works are evil.’ To come into the light exposes evil deeds. The one who lives the truth is the one who does the truth. A Christian must live the choice for Jesus with one’s whole life. (Living Liturgy, 2003)
Sometimes wouldn’t we really rather be able to ‘save ourselves’? Wouldn’t we like to point to our successes, our virtues, our improvements, our earnestness — all our efforts and deeds? But salvation is not our doing and at least on ‘bad days’ we are grateful for that. Maybe like Nicodemus we come to Jesus in the dark and only when we trust God’s rich mercy and abundant grace can we finally come to not fear the light. We do not so much achieve our salvation as we entrust ourselves to it – by God’s love and favor we are saved. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In the end our faith must help us ‘deal with’ the suffering in life. It is the ‘test’ of every religion to try to answer this question: “what are we to do with our pain? In and with Jesus we can face the reality of pain, suffering, rejection – even death – and then let this reality transform us. This is the ‘Paschal Mystery’ of Jesus – the dying and rising that is a part of our lives. If we do not transform pain, we will transmit it. (from Richard Rohr)
Paul continues to preach unity among the Philippians. There must have been something troubling this community for him to worry. Raymond Brown (Introduction to the New Testament, p. 487-488) points to 3 different troubles:
- Later on in Chapter 4, we will see that there is internal dissension among 2 female members of the community, Euodia and Syntyche. We don’t know the nitty gritty, but it sounds like a difference of opinion and perhaps a wanting to be right. Paul wants everyone to keep their eye on the bigger picture…following Christ and spreading the Gospel! Can you think of times when you had a difference of opinion and it prevented you from being your own authentic self, or got in the way of the bigger picture?
- At the end of chapter 1, Paul mentions opponents. Philippi is a diverse community with people praying to all kinds of gods. Why do these Christians think they know better? There is no way to prove who is the “right god”. Worrying about this only weakens them. Paul sees there is strength in numbers. He wants them to hold on to each other in the face of adversity. When have you worried about various tensions in your life, perhaps giving too much attention to things that weren’t good for you? Did it help to go to people you care about to stay on track?
- Another threat were Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision. For Paul, hanging on to this Jewish law for the New Way was not the answer. He is the voice for the Gentiles. Don’t we all get stuck in doing things the way they have always been done? It is especially hard when it is something so personal and heartfelt. Our example is Jesus.
In 2:6-11, we see one of the earliest indications of an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ. Jesus is in the “form of God”, “in human likeness” and “God greatly exalted him”. Theologians debate whether Paul was truly speaking of preexistence, that Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man of Jesus on earth. This would not be resolved until the councils of Nicea (325AD) and Chalcedon (451AD). This passage is often called the “Christ Hymn” because of how poetic it is. It was probably used as a creed or response in early worship, or maybe it was sung. Maybe Paul wrote this piece himself or maybe he was quoting something the Philippians would have been familiar with (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 349-351.
Reflect on some of the other phrases in the hymn…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. For the words to be closer to the original Greek, it would be translated as, “Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God, something to be snatched at.” Jesus didn’t have to snatch his equality with God because it was his right, his being. He didn’t hold it tightly either, keeping it for himself. He offered it freely to ALL(Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 36). This gift of beautiful life is a constant letting go. We can’t hold on too tightly. We are meant to give ourselves away, like Jesus did. Not to be doormats, or be used by others…it is conscious choice. We find the gift of who we are within ourselves and be that fully, opening ourselves with that intentionality. We find that the gift comes back to us in abundance! We “pour out as a libation”, but it only makes more room for God to fill us.
Why must we work out our salvation with “fear and trembling”? Barclay describes these words as coming from a sense of our own creatureliness and powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly. It is meant to drive us to SEEK God, not hide from God. The underlying feeling is a knowing that God is there to help us, that we want to please God. Salvation is a free gift from God, but we must have eyes to see it and hands to work toward it. It is God that works in us the desire to be saved. Any gift has to be received (p. 41-42).