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Victor Cancino, S.J.March 05, 2024
People drive past a burning blockade as demonstrators hold a protest calling for the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry outside the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince Feb. 25 2024. (OSV News photo/Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters)

Haiti’s capital is in violent turmoil, while its leader is far away seeking to build an international coalition of armed forces to combat local gangs. The Haitian people’s longing for stability is mixed with a desire for someone who can respond to the country’s failed governance. There are so many places of conflict around the world at the present moment. Each place yearns for peace, stability and the hope that someone will take responsibility. 

But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (Jn 3:21)

Liturgical day
Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)
Readings
2 Chr 36:14-23, Ps 137, Eph 2:4-10, Jn 3:14-21
Prayer

Do you find yourself at times turning away from the crucified Christ?

Does the cross continue to speak to your faith community?

How can you create space this week for empathy with peoples’ suffering?

 

Today’s readings, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, recall a time of longing for home after a violent defeat by enemies that surrounded the southern kingdom of Judea.  The first reading was originally meant to remind the community of faith that God could intervene in human history even through powerful forces outside of one’s own people. This is the case with Cyrus, the Persian ruler who allowed the exiled Judeans to return to Judea in the late sixth century B.C. The trip from Babylon back to Jerusalem was guaranteed by Cyrus to be a secure return passage. “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia,” recounts the Chronicler, “Whoever among you belongs to any part of [the Lord’s] people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!” (2 Chr 36:23). This event is so critical to the Old Testament that we find traces of it throughout Scripture—for example, in the second part of the Book of Isaiah and also in today’s responsorial psalm.

The psalm continues the theme of this historical exile in Babylon. The psalmist identifies as the people’s immediate enemies the Babylonian captors, who kept the people of Judah away from Zion, the holy hill. “By the rivers of Babylon,” sings the famous verse, “there we sat when we remembered Zion” (Ps 137:1).

There are other enemies as well. The Edomites border the southern entrance to Judea. The collective memory of Israel harbors a shared hatred for their southern neighbors, who allowed passage for the Babylonians to enter Jerusalem. This, too, is memorialized in the psalm, “Remember, Lord, against Edom that day at Jerusalem, they said: “Level it, level it down to its foundations!”’ (Ps 137:7).

The nostalgia for Zion is most noticeable. So desperate is the psalm’s yearning for God’s holy hill that the singer swears by his tongue and hands, the precious essentials for a musician, lest this performer forget Zion. “But how could we sing a song of the Lord,” says the singer, “in a foreign land?” (Ps 137:4). 

Within the collection of psalms, one finds this same yearning for Zion matched by anticipation for the coming of the Lord’s anointed, the one who will settle things down. The moment the anointed one rises on the scene, however, the nations plot against him to destroy the Lord’s chosen. “Kings on earth rise up,” says Ps 2:2, for example, “and princes plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one.” This becomes something of a contradiction for the anointed one, who both brings hope and attracts suffering. The emphasis on this simultaneous presence of suffering and hope is one of the reasons why Christian tradition makes such frequent use of psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours and the sacraments.

In today’s Gospel, the evangelist John attaches a singular hope to a person rather than a place. Jesus, because he is anointed, is lifted up as a sign of contradiction against his conspirators. Like the tradition of the Psalms, today’s passage situates the conspiracy against Jesus as a means to the world’s redemption. “And this is the verdict,” says John, “that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light” (Jn 3:19). That people preferred darkness does not diminish the sacrificial act as interpreted by the fourth Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). Jesus is the responsible one. 

The Christian faith is one that has found peace within contradiction. Churches are packed in Haiti at this moment as the situation worsens. To the cynical person this is an act of desperation. To the person of faith, however, it is a belief anchored in Scripture: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).

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