12 March 2018

For Whom would we Give Up our Life?

Fourth Sunday of Lent
There are a few people, but probably only a few, for whom the average person would give up his or her life.  I think any parent (any good parent, anyway) would give up his or her life for the child.  Siblings sometimes would give up their life for each other.  But generally the list of people for whom another person would give up his or her life is pretty small.
That is what is so impressive about those who serve in the military, law enforcement, or fire departments: they have made a commitment to give up their lives for total strangers.  It is quite humbling for me riding along with our MSP Troopers and seeing them walk up to cars, many with guns in them, and even while they practice safe approaches to the vehicle to limit their chance of being attacked, it still has happened all too frequently that they are in a situation where they may have to lay down their life, not only for a family member or friend, but for the citizens who may not even know they exist.  
If we think about it, giving up our life for a stranger is maybe a little easier if that person is good, maybe what we consider a productive member of society.  But what our first and second reading remind us this weekend is that we weren’t good.  This is an important aspect of salvation history: God loved us and entered into covenants with us to give us life and happiness, but we never lived up to our end of the bargain.  In the Garden of Eden, before we even had sin, we disobeyed God.  God saved Noah and his family because they followed God, but not long after that, Noah’s sons messed things up again.  Abraham did pretty well, but he still had inherited the sin of Adam and Eve that we call original sin.  Moses received the Law, the Ten Commandments from God, and no sooner had God given the Law, then the people broke it.  Even Moses himself couldn’t enter the Promised Land because he had disobeyed God on their journey through the desert.  King Saul disobeyed God, so David was chosen, but even David committed murder to cover up his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba.  Solomon started worshipping foreign gods, even though he had built the temple in Jerusalem, because of the influence of his foreign wives, and most of the kings who followed him were just as evil.  And so on and so on.  No one, not even the prophets, were good enough to earn heaven.  We all were, as St. Paul said in the second reading, “dead in our transgressions.”
And that’s what makes the familiar line we hear in the Gospel so powerful.  It’s not simply a sign that people hold up at football games behind the goal posts.  “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.”  ‘Of course he did!’ we might say to ourselves.  We are so used to God dying for us, to save us from everlasting death and Hell, that we might be a little numb to the power that is in those words.  We might die for family or friends.  We may even die for a good person.  But Jesus died for those who were His enemies: those who worked against Him starting with Adam and Eve, those who clamored for His death in Jerusalem, and for us who have nailed Jesus to the cross each time we sin.  The power of what Jesus did comes from the fact that we were, before baptism, the enemies of God, working against God, happy to do our own thing, rather than follow God.  Even the most just man, because of original sin, was still an enemy of God who could not earn salvation.
How comfortable have so many of us become with the killing of God.  We take it as a matter of fact, and it is in the sense that it has happened.  But it should not have happened.  Jesus is the light of the world, and came not to condemn us but to save us, but we preferred darkness; and so we tried to snuff out the light.  But the light conquered our darkness, as light always does.  
Think of the person who troubles you the most; maybe you even hate that person.  That person has harmed you in a way you find unforgivable.  And now you have to die for that person tomorrow so that he or she can live.  Really think about it; what would be your reaction?  What would be your honest reaction?  Jesus’ reaction was love; not begrudgingly, not with caveats and conditions, not as one forced to do what is for the best, but not the best for Him.  Jesus died for us because He loved us.  He let us kill Him with our sins because He loved us.  We did not earn salvation, nor can we; “this is not from you; it is the gift of God.”  

The question is whether or not we will respond to God’s gift of salvation.  Will we choose the light, or do we prefer darkness?  Do we believe in Jesus, follow Him, and so find eternal life, or will we be condemned because we do not believe?  We are not worth dying for.  But Jesus died for us anyway.  Accept that love of God that died for you so that you may live.