First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 Responsorial: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11 Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10 Gospel Passage: John 3:14-21
'People preferred darkness to light' By Bishop Richard Henning
John 3:16 is one of the most beloved Biblical passages – and with good reason. This beautiful summary of God’s plan of salvation for the world is truly good news for all. Just a few verses later we have summary of another sort. This summary is just as true – even painfully true: “people preferred darkness...”
The Scriptures contend with the mystery of the interplay between God’s absolute sovereignty and human autonomy, between God’s promises of blessing and the human temptation to turn away from the light.
In the passage from Second Chronicles, we hear a commentary on the traumatic experience of the Babylonian Exile. By the time of that Exile, Israel found itself increasingly distant from the “glory days” of David’s Kingdom. If they already had questions about God’s promises of a land and a kingdom that would never end, the destruction of the northern tribes and the conquest of Judah must have convinced some that the Lord had utterly abandoned them. How indeed could they “sing songs of the Lord” after such a painful loss?
Second Chronicles comes from a period after the return to the land and attempts to make sense of events. It reminds the people that their increasing infidelities lead them inevitably to their fall. At first glance, the review of events looks like a picture of a disobedient people and a vengeful God, but really the truth is more complex. The Scriptures are consistent in their teaching that God is ever faithful, ever just, ever loving. God always wants the good for His people. The problem begins with the misuse of human freedom. People use their freedom to turn away from God and the blessings of fidelity. God is not punishing them so much as their own choices harm them. In fact, Second Chronicles is asserting that even in their infidelity, God did not abandon the people, but planned for the rescue of the faithful remnant and the restoration of the promises.
The New Testament reads this same truth across the whole history of Israel and even of the human race. The passage from Ephesians testifies to God’s utter faithfulness to humanity. It reminds us that we never had any hope of redeeming ourselves by our own capacity for reform. We are ever tempted to rebel and in every generation we fail to resist the temptation. Our freedom to choose might well have been our undoing except for the faithful love of God Who prepares and enacts the plan of our deliverance. “Even when we were dead in our transgressions,” God gives us the grace of His Son Whose faithful love fulfills the purpose of our freedom. Jesus returns the perfect faithful love of the Father. God’s grace is so immeasurably generous that the faith of Christ is enough for us all. In Him we have the hope of freedom from death and freedom to live even now as children of God.
In the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, we hear Jesus speak of this immeasurable love. In veiled language, he looks forward prophetically to the expression of His self-emptying love on the cross. He also proclaims the faithfulness of God. Despite our rebellion, God does not condemn but rather brings life where we could only expect death. But even as Jesus speaks the Good News, He acknowledges that human beings remain free. The gift must be received to be a gift and we still have the choice to make. In poetic, but painful words we are reminded that given the choice, human beings will sometimes choose the darkness. We need not fear God, but we should fear the effects of our sins. Sin usually hurts others, but it always does harm to the sinner. It twists us and turns us from God. God does not condemn us, we choose the condemnation.
A few years back, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a paper in which the authors called for the legalization of “after birth abortion.” They argued that an infant has no more right to life than a child in the womb and that parents or society should have the right to end the child’s life is the child should prove to be a burden in any way. This horrific argument may sound like something out of a science fiction or horror novel, but the same argument has been advanced for a number of years by a professor at Princeton University whom the New York Times has described as a “noted ethicist.”
I suppose that we should be shocked that the culture would even consider such ideas for a moment. But we have been warned more than once. Blessed John Paul II warned us with great love and harsh words. Ours has become a “culture of death.” With fifty million innocents lost since Roe v. Wade, have we come to prefer the darkness?