Here we have one of the most important lessons we can learn from the Old Testament: God’s punishments have a purpose. They come from His love, not His hatred. The chastisement of the serpents in the wilderness taught the people to trust in God. The chastisement of Jesus on the Cross teaches us that through death—His and our own—comes new life. It’s a lesson we can take to heart in our Lenten journey to Easter.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, help me not to fear Your chastisement. Help me look for the signs of Your love that are always there.
Psalm (Read Ps 137:1-6)
Our psalm is a haunting, poetic expression of what happened to the Jews in the Exile: “By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” Whey they lost everything, they realized what mattered most—their covenant with God—even though they had been indifferent and unfaithful to it when they lived in the Promised Land. Finally, after so much disobedience, the “death” of the Exile clarified for them their true love: “May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy.” Their captors taunted them, ridiculing their former glory: “Sing for us the songs of Zion!” Stung that way, they profoundly understood what had happened to them: “How could we sing a song of the LORD in a foreign land?” They experienced what all of us do in times of chastisement—deep regret over our indifference to what matters most in life. The psalmist gives us a fitting prayer for Lent: “Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget You.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Eph 2:4-10)
St. Paul gives us a sweeping, almost cosmic description of what St. John meant in his simple words: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” He emphasizes that “God, Who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had for us,” has reached down to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In fact, “when we were dead in our transgressions, [He] brought us to life with Christ Jesus.” We can’t be any more helpless to fix ourselves than when we are “dead.” When Israel was “dead” in the wilderness, bitten by poisonous snakes, God healed them. When the Jews were “dead” in Exile, God restored them. When Jesus was “dead” in the punishment of our sin, God raised Him up to new Life. Then, most gloriously, St. Paul says that when God “raised” Jesus up to heaven, He took us with Him! How can this be?
We don’t fully understand this mystery, of course, but there is no denying that St. Paul says it is true. Jesus has taken our humanity into heaven as a foretaste of the future “immeasurable riches of His grace” He wishes to lavish on us. Our faith—our trust in all that God has done for us—is the gift of God that saves us. We were not able to do anything to earn it. The gift of faith enables us to believe in the goodness of God and to come to the light, as St. John says, so we can do “the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”
During Lent, we need these occasional flashes of the pure (and largely unimaginable) glory that awaits us as we press on toward the goal of eternal life. Yet, we must remember that the vision of glory begins with seeing Jesus “lifted up” like the serpent in the desert, a gaze into the heart of God’s greatest reversal.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, today help me choose to live the good works that are my daily bread from You.