by Fr. Tommy Lane
What a mess we would be in were it not for the mercy of God. What a mess our sin gets us into. What a disaster Israel found herself in because of her sinfulness. Six times the Old Testament tells us it was Israel’s sins that brought the exile on herself. (1 Chron 9:1; 2 Chron 36:14-16; Neh 1:6-7; Jer 25:8-11; 2 Kings 21:10-15, 23:26-27.) The Old Testament sees the exile in Babylon as punishment for sin. In 2 Chron 36 we read that the people and priests of Judah were unfaithful to God, practiced the abominations of the nations, and polluted God’s temple even though God often sent them messengers.
But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, until the anger of the Lord against his people was so inflamed that there was no remedy. Then he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who slew their young men in their own sanctuary building…(2 Chron 36:16-17)
The prophet Jeremiah is even more shocking when he says that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon who captured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, was God’s servant (Jer 25:9). However there was also a sense that Babylon had gone beyond what God had wished; a few times in the Scriptures we read that Israel had received double punishment from the Lord (e.g. Isa 40:2). Sin only appears to be great fun, it brings its own punishment.
But Israel was not left to wallow in its sinfulness. Just as Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant, Cyrus of Persia would also be God’s servant when he captured Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home to Jerusalem and end their exile. Second Isaiah beautifully predicts the freedom of the exiled Jews in our first reading today,
I will cut a road through all my
And make my highways level. (Isa 49:11)
They had been thinking,
The Lord has forsaken me;
My Lord has forgotten me. (Isa 49:14)
But God had not abandoned his people. Through Isaiah he said,
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you. (Isa 49:15)
The people would return to Jerusalem and rebuild.
But the work of rebuilding was very slow. Various reasons for the delays are given in the Old Testament. The prophet Haggai says
Thus says the Lord of hosts: This
people says: “Not now has the time come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”...
Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
Now thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways!
(Hag 1:2, 4-5)
In Ezra 5 we read that it was the prophets Haggai and Zechariah who got the people to rebuild. Even though God’s chosen people had received the freedom to rebuild, they had grown lazy. They were still suffering the effects of their sinfulness. They had to be whipped into action by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
What happened to Israel is a reflection of what happens to us when we sin.
What a mess our sin gets us into. Our sin brings its own punishment on us. Sin’s deceptive appearance of pleasure is fleeting and its effects weigh us down. Sin does not make us happy. It exiles us from God. We cannot sing joyfully by the rivers of Babylon when we are in sin and we hang up our harps (Ps 137).
Like the Jews in Babylon, we are not abandoned by God in our sinfulness. What a mess we would be in were it not for the mercy of God. The Lord takes pity on us, the Lord forgives us.
But just as the Jews were slow to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple and had to be goaded into action we are unfortunately sometimes not in a hurry to make a genuine commitment to the Lord to leave sin behind or to renew our lives. How many times the Lord has to send Haggai and Zechariah to us to encourage us to rebuild our lives and turn our backs on sin. What an irony it is that we are or want to be priests or we are committed lay faithful and yet we are unwilling to make that final step and give our hearts totally to the Lord. It makes no sense. Our stupidity is an embarrassment. We make up every excuse to sin some more. We really do need someone like Haggai and Zechariah to set us straight. When we give ourselves totally to the Lord we have nothing to lose because we have already messed up everything and we have everything to gain. Overcoming sin as well as being a grace from the Lord also involves a definite decision on our part.
During this season of Lent as we turn from sin to the Lord, we approach the Lord with confidence because as our Psalm today stated,
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
The Lord is good to all, compassionate to every creature.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for Wednesday Week 4 of Lent