All the heads of the priesthood, and the people too, added infidelity to infidelity, copying all the shameful practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord.” The final chapter of the Book of Chronicles summarises Israel’s history as a catalogue of missed opportunities. Time and time again the prophets had called Israel to repentance. Time and time again their calls had gone unheeded.
Inevitably, with the destruction of the Temple and deportation to a foreign land, they had been confronted with the consequences of their sin.
Like the Israel of old, we are called to repentance each Lent. Too easily we ignore this call, or defer it to the uncertainties of tomorrow. We fail to recognise that without God our lives, like the ruins of ancient Jerusalem, have become a barren wilderness.
From this wilderness the Book of Chronicles sounded one final call to hope. Those who had lived through the devastation of exile would be summoned afresh to Jerusalem. The ruined Temple, and with it their lives, would be rebuilt. We are called to the same hope. Whatever is shattered or broken within us the Lord himself will rebuild.
Using different imagery, St Paul described sin as the death that cuts us off from the love of God. Without such love we are unable to believe and unable to hope that we shall be anything other than strangers in the sight of God. To this inner death Paul proclaimed the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus: “The Father loved us with so much love that he was generous in his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ, and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven.”
Paul insisted that this promised salvation was pure gift: it rested in what Christ would bring about in us, not on our own achievements. “It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live.”
Jesus insisted to Nicodemus that for those who entrust themselves in faith to Christ there can be no judgment. “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.” We fear the darkness that we harbour in our hearts, but when we entrust our darkness to Christ we come into the light. We become God’s work of art.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (13/3/15).
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