Fourth Sunday of Lent
1) 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23
2) Eph 2:4-10
Gospel: Jn 3:14-21
A characteristic that set the Israelites’ God apart from the gods of their neighbors was that he didn’t always support them when they went to war. Ancient Near Eastern kings had prophets in their courts. Generally, when a king decided to take his army into the field against an enemy, he could depend on his prophets to deliver oracles of encouragement from the gods: “Go for it. We’re with you. Victory ahead!”
This was not always the case with Israel’s God, however. Sometimes the king decided on war, and God sent a prophet to tell him, “Bad decision. Call it off.”
Today’s first reading mentions Jeremiah, a prophet who delivered such a message. He was among the prophets the Second Book of Chronicles has in mind when it says, “Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them. … But they … despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets.”
Jeremiah told the kings and people that God would not support military resistance against the attacking Babylonians. The reason wasn’t that he no longer cared about them; quite the opposite.
They had strayed very far from his vision of a just society — there was luxury for the social elite, grinding poverty, even slavery, for the less fortunate — and until they remedied the breakdown in their relationships with each other, God was not going to be accompanying them on any military expeditions. So they found false prophets who proclaimed messages of victory and they suffered disastrous defeats.
Like the Israelites, we too have to discern our way forward in life. Where does God want us to invest our energies? What new courses of action is he calling us into? The options don’t involve taking a nation to war; they may involve developing a career, building a business, taking on responsibilities.
On the roads God calls us to walk with him, we will find success — at least, success in his eyes, and the peace of fulfilling our purposes in life.
In discerning these roads, we might remember the Israelites. Does the path we’re considering reflect God’s abiding concern for rightness of our relationships? “If you can dream it, you can do it” and “go for your passion” are fine as far as they go. But no dream should be pursued at the cost of those God has entrusted to our care.
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.