In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord's temple which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.
Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send His messengers to them, for He had compassion on His people and His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His warnings, and scoffed at His prophets, until the anger of the Lord against His people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects. Those who escaped the sword were carried captive to Babylon, where they became servants of the king of the Chaldeans and his sons until the kingdom of the Persians came to power. All this was to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah: "Until the land has retrieved its lost Sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled."
In the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: "Thus says Cyrus, King of Persia: "All the kingdoms of the Earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and He has also charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of His people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!""(P) The word of the Lord.
By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. On the aspens of that land we hung up our harps. (R)
For there our captors asked of us the lyrics of our songs and our despoilers urged us to be joyous: "Sing for us the songs of Zion!" (R)
How could we sing a song of the Lord in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten! (R)
May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy. (R)
Brothers and sisters, God is rich in mercy. Because of the great love He had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, He brought us to life with Christ - by grace you have been saved. He raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, to be our way of life.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who 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 might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light; and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
We started Lent with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads as a startling reminder of our mortal nature, and also as a symbol of penance and sorrow for our sins. Since then we have reflected on several great themes running through the Sunday readings.
On the first Sunday, we heard of Jesus' temptations in the desert. Temptation, in itself, is not sin. But temptation leads us to sin. Jesus was tempted by Satan but he resisted it. Like Jesus, all of us face temptations throughout our lives. But we too, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can effectively resist temptations in the same way Jesus did. We also reflected on the call of Jesus to repentance and belief in the gospel. We learned that repentance is not merely sorrow, remorse, or regret for sin, nor ceasing from sinful bad habits, nor even being willing to turn from sin but turning toward God with our whole heart to be saved from sin. The word gospel means "good news". So, to believe in the gospel means to believe in the good news, that is, all of what Jesus says is true and life-giving.
On the second Sunday, we read the episode of God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and God's reaffirmation of His covenant promises to Abraham because of his complete faith and absolute obedience. We also heard the amazing account of the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of three of his disciples and the voice from the heavens entreating the disciples to listen to Jesus. Thus we come to understand two things: (1) By allowing suffering, troubles, afflictions and hardship, God tests our faith, love and devotion to Him. (2) God wants us to surrender ourselves to Him totally and obey Jesus' teachings in order to receive the rewards of happiness, eternal life and all spiritual blessings.
On the third Sunday, we briefly meditated on the Ten Commandments and John's narration of Jesus expelling the moneychangers and merchants in order to keep the temple a holy place and a house of prayer. Thus, God's call to obedience requires us to obey both the Ten Commandments and the testimony of Jesus Christ who affirms the authenticity of the Ten Commandments for our Christian life, and says that he and his Father love the one who keeps such laws, Mark (10:17-21) and John (14:21).
However, God loves us even when we break His commandments. Yes. God loves us despite our sinfulness. Just imagine what if God takes our prayers seriously. In today's responsorial psalm we read, "Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you". So often we have forgotten God, yet He has not made us mute and dumb. He has not forsaken us. Saint Paul confirms this in his writings. For example, in his letter to the Ephesians, which we read today, Paul proclaims how great in love and rich in mercy God is. The riches and treasures of God are not gold, not silver, not money but love and mercy. God's love is so great and His mercy is so rich that He is willing to impart them to others and make all people blessed.
Paul says that even while we are dead in trespasses and sin, God blesses us with riches both here and in the world to come. He points out, "God has brought us to life with Christ; God has raised us up with Christ; and God has seated us in the heavens with Christ". Paul believes that life, resurrection and a place in heaven with Christ are immeasurable spiritual blessings or riches which God has granted in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. That is to say, salvation is essentially a gift of God's grace alone. God saves us not because of our works or anything special in us but because of His great love and mercy for us.
Why does Paul say that salvation is not earned with good works? He contends "so that none of us can boast about it". Because pride is the essence of all sin. That is to say, assertion or declaration of autonomy against God or independence from God is a decisive break with God's will or tantamount to our denial of God's power or our desire to be equal with God. Yes. The original sin consists of man and woman asserting their independence from God, their Creator and placing their reason and will above God's. So when God saves us from sin, He must also save us from pride which is the source of sin. It is also known as arrogance, haughtiness, boastfulness and self-will. All of our works therefore are naught as means of our salvation. For example, Jesus denounces the man, a Pharisee, who went to the temple and prayed that he was righteous but praises the man, a tax collector, who prayed that he was a sinner, Luke (18:11-14). So, good works must never become an instrument of self-exaltation before God. This does not mean, however, that good works are irrelevant, especially during lent, as we observe fasting, prayer and charity as penance for our sins.
Good works are important. As a matter of fact, we are saved by grace so that we can live a life of good works. Paul says, "We are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, to be our way of life." That is to say, we are God's masterpiece, reborn or recreated or baptized in Christ so that we will be able to do good works. Moreover Jesus commands us to love others as he loves us. However, he urges us to love others or do good works not to seek recognition and glory for ourselves but so that others would know that we are disciples of Jesus, John (13:34-35), and God may get glory and praise. He says, "Your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven", Matthew (5:16). Good works done with the motivation of glorifying God is and will be always rewarded. Because Jesus promises us, "Your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you", Matthew (6:4). In this sense, good works are essential to salvation.
Therefore, during Lent, if we truly repent for our sins; believe in the gospel of Jesus; obey God's Ten commandments and listen to the voice of Jesus; humbly accept God's love and mercy; and undertake good works out of gratitude for God's grace, He will certainly reward us for our faithfulness to Him in this life and with life after death.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!