Spiritual Joy Amidst Adversity

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B, 10 March, 2024, St. Paul’s Parish, Gwagwalada, FCT. Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama

Readings: 2 Chr. 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph. 2:4-10; Jn. 3:14-21

Spiritual Joy Amidst Adversity

As we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Lent, the glory of Easter is on the horizon. The Johannine Gospel reminds us of the greatest act of humility ever displayed in history, namely, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

The first reading narrates how the people of Israel offended God by their obstinacy in sin. God sent prophets to warn them against their sinful ways. They did not listen, and this provoked Yahweh’s wrath, and consequently, their city was destroyed, and the people were exiled to Babylon. However, after about 70 years, God’s mercy prevailed and through the pagan King Cyrus of Persia, the Israelites once again received the grace of restoration to the Promised Land.

We see how sin can cast us off into spiritual exile. The devil who lures us to sin is out to steal, kill and destroy the soul (cf. Jn. 10:10). The good news is that God cares about our spiritual homecoming; He is eager to see us back home and He will receive us warmly (cf. Jer. 15:19), only if we are ready to abandon our old ways. The sacrament of confession is an easy channel to trace our paths back to God. Just like the prodigal son who returned to his senses and went back to receive his father’s unconditional forgiveness, God is more interested in our glorious future than in our sinful and unproductive past.

St. Paul explains in the second reading that our reconciliation and salvation is by God’s grace. Pelagianism was a fifth century heresy, that said man can achieve heaven under his own powers; that God’s grace is not necessary, but only makes salvation easier. The fact is that we can do nothing to merit our salvation. St. Paul in the second reading reiterates that “by grace you have been saved … and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). It is donum indebitum, a gift which we have no right to.

The love of God is such that the Lord does not punish us according to our iniquities (cf. Ps. 103:10). The people of Israel were not punished because God was wicked; they were punished simply because they were loved by God. This very reason accounts for why God “stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia” to bring about the liberation of the people of Israel.

The gospel reading recounts the instructive dialogue Jesus had with Nicodemus, a prominent and wealthy Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin. He came to Jesus at night-time to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus taught him that spiritual rebirth by water and the Spirit is essential for entering the kingdom of heaven and referred him to the story of Moses and the bronze serpent (Numbers 21). The Israelites complained about the Lord during their time in the desert, and God sent deadly serpents to punish them. They repented and requested Moses to pray for them. The Lord answered Moses’ plea and told him to fashion a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Everyone who had been bitten by a serpent and looked at the bronze serpent was healed. By retelling this event, Jesus hinted to the salvation that would be achieved through His death and resurrection. Jesus too was lifted on the cross. His crucifixion transformed the cross from an instrument of death to an instrument of life.

We are challenged today that when we are stung by the “snakes” of sin and challenges of daily life we must turn to Jesus because as St. Augustine said, “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” Despite the many socio-economic and security challenges, this Sunday, called “Laetare Sunday,” invites us to take a break from the penitential mood of Lent as we did on “Gaudete” Sunday in the third Sunday of Advent. We must not give up on life, neither must we give in to despair over current sufferings, but offer them to God, who alone can change our situations for good. He never abandons us in the face of difficulty and uncertainties.

The candidates for confirmation are called to open their hearts to God to receive the gift of His Spirit to fortify them in grace as soldiers of the gospel.

Our gaze on Jesus on the cross is the remedy to break away from the shackles of sin. Without the cross, there is no crown, victory, or glory.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:14, 16, “You are the light of the world… your light must shine before people so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven.” We must be a beacon of hope and love to those around us.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the abducted 287 pupils of Kuriga primary school in Kaduna State kidnapped by gunmen, and the many women and children allegedly abducted days earlier by Boko Haram in Borno State. We also pray for a stop to the brutal war in Gaza.

Congratulations to all women on the International Women’s Day celebrated on the 8th of March. We are very proud of our “ever ready” and dynamic Zumuntan Mata, the Catholic Women Organization (CWO), who are great pillars of support in the Church and society. We continue to advocate that women must be valued, appreciated, and celebrated.

May God bless the Parish Priest, Fr. Gabriel Ekpe, MSP, his team of collaborators, and indeed all of you parishioners, and fill you with optimism and holy joy in anticipation of Easter.

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