God’s Remedy through the Cross of Jesus Christ

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B. Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama at St. Fabian’s Parish Efab-Jabi, Abuja, March 14, 2021.

Readings: 2 Chr. 36:14-16, 19-23; Ps. 136 (137): 1-6; Eph. 2:4-10; Jn. 3:14-21

Dear parishioners of St. Fabian’s Parish, Efab-Jabi, today marks my first visit to your parish. May God continue to bless and keep all of you and your families in His love.

The fourth Sunday of Lent otherwise known as “Laetare” Sunday offers us the opportunity to express hope and joy in the midst of our penitential Lenten observances. We rejoice because we are already half-way into our Lenten journey and the time of our Easter joy is drawing near. Today, rose-coloured vestments may replace violet, and flowers may grace the altar, symbolizing the Church’s joy in anticipation of the resurrection of our Lord.

Today’s first reading from 2nd Chronicles narrates the unfortunate attitude of the people God chose as His own possession. They began to worship false gods instead of the one, true God of Israel, even though they knew God said, “I am the Lord your God, thou shall not have other gods besides me” (Ex. 20:3). As their punishment, God withdrew His protection from them and allowed them to be plundered by the armies of other nations especially, the Babylonians.

When we fail to be obedient to God and His commandments, we experience pain, sadness and lack of spiritual progress. The Psalmist tells us: “Happy are those who follow God’s law and search for Him with all their hearts” (Ps. 119:2).

In spite of our sins, St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that God still loves us and remains “generous with His mercy: when we were dead through our sins, He brought us to life with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). Sin makes us slaves and wounds us grievously. But in the cross of Jesus we have the antidote which removes the poison of sin from our hearts.

The central point of our Gospel today is that God so loved us that He sent His only Son to die for us. The Gospel begins with the story of the ancient serpent that was erected by Moses in the desert after Israel’s sin of rebellion against God followed by the bites of serpents. This was not the first time humanity would be bitten by the old serpent; the first was in the Garden of Eden; a bite that changed humanity’s attitude of reverence and love of God into disobedience and self-centredness.

God however gave us a remedy through the cross of Jesus Christ, and all who raise their heads with faith and look at Him are destined to receive healing and salvation. That is why St. John tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

In the midst of the “snake bites” of hunger, poverty, terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, etc., leaving us almost helpless, we must like the Psalmist say, “I look up to the heavens, where shall my help come from? My help shall come from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2).

Like the Israelites, Nigerians in this journey of life have been badly bitten; we have been wounded by our human passions and inclinations, battered by our concupiscence and propensity to become inhuman to one another on account of religion, ethnicity and politics. Unless we raise our eyes in faith to our Lord God as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master (cf. Ps 123:2), we risk being captured by very dark forces. We must admit that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the ideals of genuine patriotism to build a nation of our dreams.

We must ask the question, “Why are things not working well despite the enormous blessings of God on Nigeria?” Until we desist from greed, injustice, discrimination, myopic view of religion, parochial ethnic interests instead of the common good, political insensitivity and the tendency to surreptitiously corner our common patrimony for the benefit of a few, we will continue dancing dangerously on the precipice.

Having lost the Temple, their homeland and freedom to slavery at the Babylonian exile, the Jews came to their senses, recognizing their sinfulness and cried out to God for mercy. The story of the restoration of the Israelites with a hopeful ending is told from the conviction that God shows mercy to the contrite, and is willing to use their sufferings to save and to bring them back to the fold.

In the Gospel, Nicodemus who was a leading Jew of great wealth and position, wanted enlightenment from Jesus, so must all our men of influence and power in our country genuinely seek God’s face.

For us Catholics, the crucifix, a symbol of the “lifted up” Jesus, is a reminder not only of God’s love and mercy, but also of the price of our salvation. Every Catholic home should not be without this symbol of God’s love.

To those receiving the sacrament of confirmation today, you are called to a greater commitment to the Church, to the wider society and to God. The Holy Spirit will guide and animate you to become great heralds of Christ, and through your fervent prayer and courageous witnessing; the light of God will shine to dispel the darkness of sin in our dear country.

We entrust your parish priest, Fr. Fidelis Okpanachi, CSsR, and your team of collaborators, the entire parishioners of St. Fabian’s, Efab Estate, to Mary, Mother of all Christians, to present you to her Son, that your pastoral efforts here will yield a bumper harvest.

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