Not listening to God is not a good thing. We all know that, but the readings on this Fourth Sunday in Lent drive the point home.
The people of Judah “added infidelity to infidelity,” the First Reading says, worshipping false gods, polluting the sacred temple, ignoring the real God with vigor. Read the First Reading for the terrible details.
Out of compassion God had sent prophets to warn them, but each received only scorn. The people would not listen. “There was no remedy,” the author says: the people were condemned by their own actions. God's love remained constant, but theirs did not. The invading force took them as captives into Babylon, where they remained in exile for seventy years until the good and just King Cyrus conquered Babylon and let them go.
For a Responsorial Psalm we have one of the most poignant of all, the exquisite Psalm 137. In it the people weep as captives in a foreign land. They refuse to sing the songs of Judah because they are exiled from everything they held dear, everything that their own infidelity had robbed from them. As far as they knew, the light of life had gone out. But they had closed their eyes to this light.
John’s Gospel tells us that a person is condemned because that person "has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” God has no desire to condemn, but people condemn themselves by walling God out.
At the end of the Gospel reading there is a very interesting, wise saying that sums up the message of the readings:
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.
Maybe these sentences reveal the heart of sin itself. Light displays too much of our life. We become ashamed. We hide our sinful selves. Yet we are built to seek the light.
Perhaps the present writer can be pardoned for presenting a poem in this space, especially one that he himself wrote. It is a fable, set in the style of a children’s verse. I recommend that you read it out loud. Perhaps it will speak to you of the readings.
Once there was a city built in the sunlight.
Warmth and laughter abounded.
Memories of day would remain every night
until the sun could return.
Fear one morning said light is too bright.
Too much truth can be seen.
How can we seem what we say we are
if light the intruder is here?
So walls went up and a ban on all windows
and nothing of day could remain.
The city said, you have left us, O sun.
In the darkness we have gone blind.
But the sun outside still shed its light,
and its warmth and its laughter and love.
It lightened the walls
and gave warmth to their chill,
while within, the soul bored a hole.
Into it poured a single beam,
a sunlight of laughter and care.
Softly, silently, almost like spring,
love opened and blossomed and grew.*
Listen to the light. Listen to God this Lent. Let love blossom and grow.
Fr. John Foley, S. J.
*Poem copyright John B Foley, S. J., 1980
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