The 4th Sunday of Lent is traditionally known as Laetare Sunday. The day’s theme comes from the entrance antiphon reflecting on Isaiah 66: 10-11: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exalt and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” Laetare means "rejoice" and like its counterpart in Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the priest has the option of wearing rose-colored vestments instead of violet. The change of color is supposed to indicate a sense of hope and joy—anticipation of Easter—during the penitential season. We are now only 21 days away from Easter Sunday!
The Gospel today (Year B) contains a much referred to Bible verse (John 3:16), which I can remember looking up as a teenager after I saw people holding up signs with this verse referenced on them at football games:
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. (Jn. 3:16)
I suggest that we take some time to reflect on the power of this single verse from Scripture. It is the core of the Christian message. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus here, a leading Pharisee of the time, who came to question Jesus at night. I like to call him Nick at Night. He was most likely afraid to be associating with Jesus openly because of what his fellow Pharisees and others might think.
Billy Graham, the famous evangelical preacher who was honored nationally three years ago at his funeral, often focused on the basic, simple truths of the Bible to let people know how much God loved them. He was direct, clear and forceful in his approach to preaching the Gospel:
Make no mistake, though, Graham wrote messages ideal for the masses and for calling people to decision. In other words, to understate the obvious, he really knew how to preach an evangelistic sermon. Graham spoke of life and death, heaven and hell, repentance, society in decay, souls in misery, the love of God, the Cross of Christ. He majored in the gospel in a way simple and clear, relied on Scripture alone for his authority—repeating "the Bible says" without apology—and pursued the listener's heart and will from beginning to end. The title of his ministry's monthly magazine—Decision—testifies to this single-minded aim. His preaching displayed a galvanizing urgency because he asked the listener what they would do with Christ today. (Craig Brian Larson)
I contrast the Pharisee Nicodemus and his reluctance to accept and become a disciple of Jesus, with Billy Graham's sense of urgency and necessity about following Jesus. When we hear the words of Jesus, how do we respond? Do we have a sense of hesitancy and reluctance, or are we willing to respond, follow and change our lives? Each person, each generation has to make this decision.
Yes, God loves us and sent His Son to us! His Son died for us. Being Jesus' disciple is a life-changing opportunity and offers us an eternal future with life and hope! This is indeed Good News! It is a reason to rejoice!
How do I respond to the message?
Fr. Ed Namiotka
Fr. Ed Namiotka