Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Jennifer Halling, Novice
March 10, 2018
Our Scripture readings for the fourth Sunday of Lent invite us to consider this question: What does it mean to cooperate with the plans of God's heart, to use a phrase from Psalm 33? What does it mean to participate in the life of God?

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us that God is rich in mercy and has great love for us. Once our eyes are open to God's mercy and love, we understand that participating in the life of God means joyfully extending that mercy and love to others. We see how this happened in the life of Jesus. When he was baptized, he heard God say, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." After spending 40 days in the desert getting his head and heart around this truth, Jesus became an itinerant preacher, sharing the light of God's love and mercy with others. Once Jesus understood that, as a beloved son, God lived in him and he lived in God, what else could he do but invite others to share in that relationship?

As far as we can tell, the plans of God's heart appear to be ongoing creation that flows from the participation of the entire universe in God's life and love, which infuses all things. As wonderful as that would appear to be, it requires acknowledging that God is God and we are not, which means giving up our own plans and desires. As a consequence of the human struggle to impose our own will on the universe, those who speak the truth of God's ways are often persecuted and sometimes killed. Thus, Jesus' participation in the plans of God's heart led him to the cross, and you would think that would have been the end of it. However, Jesus himself pointed out that in the desert, God transformed the venom of serpents into a means of healing for the Israelites who rebelled against God's ways. Just so, God transformed the venom in rebellious human hearts that led to the crucifixion of Jesus into a means of new life for all of us. God's universe bends toward love, and as Mohandas Gandhi noted, "Love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable."

We are foolish to believe that our own plans will prevail over God's plans, for as Psalm 33 says, "The Lord frustrates the designs of the nations, and defeats the plans of the people. The designs of the Lord stand forever, the plans of God's heart from age to age." We can choose not to believe that Jesus is God's son and refuse the invitation to participate in that divine relationship of love and mercy. However, when we do so, we condemn ourselves to estrangement from God's life and light, resulting in the darkness of fear, loneliness, and bitterness.

What does it mean to respond to God's invitation instead of rejecting it? It means acknowledging that we are God's handiwork, as St. Paul says to the Ephesians. As such, we don't try to displace the plans of God's heart with our own. Rather, we seek to flow with life's mystery, trusting that God is leading us even and perhaps especially when we are asked to do something that seems nonsensical, challenging, or puzzling, as Nicodemus discovered in his conversation with Jesus. Accepting the invitation to participate in the divine relationship of love and mercy means believing that we are capable of doing the good works set before us without doubting our abilities and our strength. It means being vocal about our gratitude so all the world can see the source of our joy and be drawn into the relationship with God that we ourselves enjoy. It means carrying the plans of God's heart with us throughout our human journey. Perhaps it even means carrying God's very heart with us, which might be one meaning of this poem by EE Cummings:

I carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) I am never without it (anywhere
I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) I want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)