17 March 2015

Picking the Fruit of the Tree of the Cross

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Very few people I know like to get in trouble.  As children (and sometimes as adults) when we have done something that we shouldn’t, something for which we could get in trouble, we tend to run away and hide.  We don’t like to admit that we’ve done something wrong.  If there’s a broken anything in the family house, it was never one of the kids who did it; it was always done by someone named Idont No.  
We probably get this from our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Back in the Garden of Eden, they were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit, to disobey God’s command.  And they both did it.  But then what did they do?  They hid because they were ashamed.  They didn’t want to face God and what the consequences would be.  To admit that they were wrong was to admit that they were naked, totally seen, by God.
We like this first part of the Gospel today, John 3:16.  This passage may be one of the best know passages in all the Bible: “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.”  We see it at sporting events, especially football games from people in the seats behind the goal posts.  And it is powerful, and needs to be spread more.  It is important for us always to carry this message with us, that Jesus came as the result of God’s love so that we do not have to perish, to die eternally, but so that we can live eternally.  If you read this passage, you’ll notice that it’s not in quotation marks.  This isn’t some that Jesus said (at least according to modern reading of this passage), but is rather John’s commentary on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.
But St. John also says something important later in this same passage: “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.”  St. John, having spent three years with Jesus in His public ministry, the same disciple who was beloved by Jesus and leaned on his chest during the Last Supper, was keenly aware that people prefer darkness to the light that Jesus brings.  And why?  Because we think in the darkness we can hide our sinfulness and get away with it.  We don’t want to get in trouble.  We don’t want God to see our imperfections.
But St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that response to sin is not to hide in the darkness, but to run to the mercy of God.  He writes to the Ephesians that God wants to, “show the immeasurable riches of his grace.”  God sent Jesus not to condemn us, but to forgive us.  But to be forgiven, we have to come into the light.  We have to come and admit our sins which cause spiritual death so that God, who is rich in mercy, can forgive us and raise us to new life.  God’s mercy and forgiveness are the fruit of the tree of the cross, the fruit that God wants us to pick regularly and consume.  And God encourages us and pushes us there.  But only we can pick that fruit of mercy, just as only we can pick the fruit of disobedience like our first parents.  
We shouldn’t want to sin and to do bad things.  But when we do, God encourages us to come running to Him, rather than running away from Him.  God wants us to come to the light, rather than to hide in the darkness.  And the funny thing is that God already knows what is in the darkness.  He knows the ways that we have distanced ourselves from Him.  But when we bring it into the light we find not condemnation but mercy.  We are only really in trouble if we continue to prefer the darkness to the light and hide from God.  Because when we hide from God we show that we do not really believe in Him and His power to forgive.  And, while St. John says clearly that, “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,” he also says in the same sentence, “but whoever does not believe has already been condemned.”  

We can all help to promote people coming to the light, especially in our families.  Yes, there will be negative consequences for making bad choices.  That is the nature of bad choices: there are bad things that follow.  But what a beautiful thing it is when a child or a spouse comes forward to admit that he or she has done wrong.  In that moment, even though there is often hurt from the wrong done, especially if it’s wrong done to a person, there is also, or should also be, joy in having the wrong come into the light.  To put it concretely, you may still punish your child for stealing $20 to help them to understand that stealing is wrong.  But at the same time there should be some mitigation for that child coming forward in honesty to admit the wrong he or she has done, because that child had the courage to come into the light so that he or she could receive mercy.  When we come into the light and reveal our sins to God (who knows them already), He is merciful to us.  Hopefully we can also live that way and show God’s love by being merciful when a wrong is brought into the light to us.