4th Sunday of Lent B

My brother just turned 49 this week so you can see that we are only 15 months apart.  And two boys being fifteen months apart presents many opportunities for competition.  Subconsciously, I think we divided the world between us so there was not too much conflict.  John focused on football, baseball and girls and I focused on basketball and academics.  It has been 30 years and I still do not know who got the best of that deal.

Something similar happened around the time of the Protestant reformation.  The theological differences between Catholics and Protestants that sparked the division hardened.  Each side held more firmly to their points of emphasis so as to almost ignore and disdain what the other side held precious.  And what’s more, these theological differences were bathed in blood in wars fought throughout Europe.  War makes our ideals into mountains of inflexibility.

After 400 hundred years of not talking to each other, Catholicism and Protestantism both retained a certain approach, a way of dividing up the experience of Christ.  Catholics took the sacraments and Protestants took the word. We focused on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and Protestants treasured John and the epistles of Paul.  We venerated Mary and Protestants found this suspicious and close to worship.  We emphasized good works and they emphasized faith.  Our relationship with God was closer to we-Thee and theirs is more me-Thee.  Our crosses are crucifixes and we are in touch with the suffering of Christ and theirs have no body on them as they see the cross as a sign of victory.  I feel Catholics really get the incarnation and how Jesus becomes a part of our life and Protestants really understand salvation and how the cross conquered death.  Protestant churches always have a coat rack and Catholics never do.  I don’t know the theological reason for that.

Since dialogue began after Vatican II many of these gaps have been narrowed.  Lutherans and Catholics came to an agreement on faith and works.  About 500 years too late, but we got there.  We have furiously scrambled to catch up on the word of God as being central to our faith, while the Protestant tradition has rediscovered the grace and power of sacraments.  There is even a growing appreciation of Mary as the perfect disciple in the churches of the Reformation.  Most importantly, we have all realized that Jesus cannot be divided, that he is bigger than any one perspective.  That his life and salvific role are the source of unending grace and blessing.

As wonderful as the bridging of the gap has been there are still different cultures with different vocabularies.  In today’s Gospel we hear the emblematic verse for evangelical Christianity, John 3:16 emblazoned in hearts and on signs at ballgames throughout the world.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  When I hear that line, I no longer want to be in fine vestments but in a three piece suit with sweat on my forehead, well, more sweat on my forehead and shout it out for all to hear. I want to fall upon someone, shake them and ask, “Are you saved?”  (When I did this to a young person at mass, he quietly said, “Probably.” A perfect Catholic answer!)

This is not how we are used to speaking.  But no picture of Jesus is complete without us registering that we have indeed been saved, “by grace you have been saved” as we heard in Ephesians.  The unique relationship with Jesus to the one he called Father is why we do not perish, but we have eternal life.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  Our salvation is the result of the rescue mission of Christ who snatched us from unending darkness and brought us to his eternal light.  Think of what you would owe someone who saved your life.  How much more do you owe to the one who saved you for a life that will never end.  Jesus was raised on a cross to be exalted and we were raised with him and now we are redeemed by the blood that was shed, born again in relationship to our Heavenly Father.  If you ever asked by someone have you been saved by Jesus Christ, you say “You better believe it.”

See I don’t speak like this.  But it doesn’t mean it is not true. Our church affirms that all salvation comes through Christ.  There is a line between darkness and light.  The question is how boldly you color that line.  Some would say that only those who personally accept Jesus are saved.  I believe that Jesus can and wills to save anyone.  But I also know how blessed we are to belong to the light, to know and to cherish our Savior Jesus Christ.

So as we prepare for the Passion of the Lord let us not fail to remember that it is the cosmic event that shook the foundations of the world, that led us forth from slavery to freedom, darkness to light, death to life.  Let us give praise to the Church’s one foundation, Jesus Christ the Lord.  Let us give thanks to the cross, that old rugged cross and let us rejoice in grace, amazing grace, as the redeemed, saved and blessed people of Jesus Christ.

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