Fourth Sunday of Lent
The end of 2 Chronicles claims that “all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people” were continuously unfaithful to their covenant with God. This infidelity ultimately led to seventy years of exile in Babylon, after which Cyrus, the Persian ruler who conquered Babylon, allows the people of Israel to return home and rebuild their temple; the Psalmist reflects on the bitterness of those seventy years. Paul is lyrical in praising God “who is rich in mercy” and who “brought us to life” with Christ, while the evangelist recounts preaching by Jesus on this same theme. This is the section of John that includes the oft-memorized John 3:16: “For God so loved the word . . .” All three readings emphasize God’s desire to rescue—or redeem—humanity from pain and suffering.
HUMAN HISTORY . . .
Today’s reading from 2 Chronicles is the conclusion of these two volumes, a brief summary of Judah’s infidelity under a sequence of kings and the subsequent seventy years of exile in Babylon. This abbreviated sequence recaps the events treated in earlier chapters, concluding with Jerusalem being conquered and its inhabitants deported by to Babylon.
After the Babylonians were conquered by Cyrus and the Persians, Cyrus built the great Persian Empire that covered almost the entire ancient Near East. Unlike the earlier Assyrians and Babylonians, Cyrus did not rule by deporting and enslaving peoples he defeated. Instead, he organized his empire into regional governments and funded their construction projects, ruling over all with the title King of Kings (among others). In this spirit, Cyrus urged the exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple and their native culture. In Jewish terms, Cyrus was a “messiah” (Hebrew), or a christos (Greek), someone anointed by God to carry out this divine mission.
. . . AND DIVINE RESCUE
The return from exile in Babylon was second only to the Exodus from Egypt as a founding narrative shaping the Jewish identity into which Jesus was born and in which his church took root and began to grow. If we read between the lines of the two New Testament readings from today, we can see the outlines of this same pattern of God bringing humanity from sorrow into joy: The Hebrews’ slavery in Egypt and the Judeans’ exile in Babylonia reveal a universal truth, that we belong to the God who is “rich in mercy,” and we are assured that “when we were dead in our transgressions,” God “so loved the world” that he sent Jesus to be the way of our redemption, our salvation.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is sometimes called “Laetare Sunday,” or “Rejoice! Sunday.” Even if we feel overwhelmed by the darkness of sin (our own and others’), wondering whether God really is working on our behalf, we can put our faith in today’s Word that it is so. For this, we can truly rejoice—we are more than halfway to Easter!