In the readings for this Sunday, March 11, Cyrus sends the Israelites home, God saves us with grace, and Jesus tells us to head for the light.
by Jen Schlameuss-Perry
In the readings for this Sunday, March 11, the theme of God’s mercy continues. The Israelites were in exile in Babylon when God used King Cyrus of Persia to send them home to rebuild God’s nation. They had been victims of war with a superpower, but now were experiencing a peace they couldn’t have seen coming. The second reading shows us God’s boundless mercy — that he didn’t wait for us to be worthy of saving, or make us have to earn salvation, but offered it as a free gift to anyone who wanted to believe in it. The Gospel today is a famous one — God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. If that’s not a mercy, I don’t know what is. Jesus tells Nicodemus that, even when the light is right in front of them (Jesus is that light), they still turn away and prefer the darkness. But, that didn’t stop Jesus from keeping his light shining. Even when we continue to choose the darkness of sin, Jesus shines his light to guide us back to him when we’re ready.
2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
“Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!”
Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God…
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
You can read the full text of this Sunday’s readings here:
God’s mercy works in mysterious ways. That’s not news. But, sometimes it’s hard to see how God’s mercy is working in our lives when we’re in the midst of pain. God was in constant communication with the people of Israel before they were attacked. God told them, through the prophets, what they needed to do to change so that they could avoid much unpleasantness in their lives. They ignored him, scoffed at the prophets, and continued doing what they were doing wrong. Correction itself is a mercy — it gives the one who’s in the wrong an opportunity to make things right, with the understanding that they will be restored. It wasn’t until they lost everything through war — their home, their temple, their people, their connection with God — that they were ready to welcome God’s mercy into their lives. Through more war, Cyrus of Persia, another pagan king gained control of Babylon where the Jews were in exile. God inspired him, the most unlikely hero, to free the Jews and send them back to their home. They were ready to rebuild and reconnect with God … for a time.
This truth about God’s mercy is reinforced in the reading from Ephesians. We’re reminded that God saved us when we were still sinful — not that we were already doing great and following God’s plan for us. God’s grace saves us, not anything we can do. God loves us wherever we are and however bad we’ve been. God’s mercy returns us to ourselves, “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” God’s plan for us is that we would be most truly ourselves, most authentically living as his free, beloved children.
Everyone knows today’s Gospel. “John 3:16” — It’s even on posters at sporting events. But the beginning of this reading is Jesus telling Nicodemus that Jesus will be lifted up like the serpent in the desert. This is a reference to the story where the Hebrews didn’t obey God and got bitten by venomous serpents as a result. The only way for them to be healed was for them to look at one of the serpents held up in the community — a symbol of the sins they had committed. We have to look at our sin for what it is to be healed of it. We look to the crucifix to see, not only a symbol of the sins we’ve committed, but the instrument by which they are all forgiven and we’re healed of the venomous effects of our sin.
All of these readings are about recognizing the truth — the truth that we need correction and mercy, that we are God’s beloved children whose father has big plans for us, and that when we sin, we’re offered God’s free, unconditional mercy; all we have to do is claim it.
Did anyone ever surprise you by being kind when you didn’t expect it? Why do you think they were kind, when they might not have been?
Do you ever refuse to see God correcting your erroneous ways? Do you sometimes need to be confronted painfully to finally be ready to pay attention?
Can you think of a time when you were in particular need of God’s mercy? What did that experience reveal to you about who you are in relationship to God?
Bonus Question for all three groups:
Someone who’s life was rooted in mercy was St. Patrick. His feast day is next Saturday. Check out this article for info on this great saint, and if you have a chance, watch the Veggie Tales episode about him. It’s great!
A little lectio
The ancient practice of prayerfully reflecting on bits of Scripture is known as lectio divina. Want to try it out with your family? Head over to Lectio Divina for Kids to find out how to adapt this prayer practice for your kids.
A little Bible study
Want to do a little Bible study with your kids? Here are some tips:
- During Ordinary Time, the Church pairs the Old Testament and New Testament readings in a way that each sheds light on the other. Ask your kids to look for the common theme connecting the two readings. (Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it is subtle.) How does the “dialogue” between the readings help you understand them better?
- Get a New American Bible, Revised Edition, and take a look at the footnotes for these readings. How do they change your understanding of what is going on?
- Take a look at the context for the readings—what happens before, or after?
- Read the NABRE’s introduction to the book of the Bible that the readings are taken from. How does that help you understand the readings?
- If you don’t have a copy of the NABRE at home, you can view it online at the USCCB website at the Daily Readings web page. (The link will take you to today’s reading; click forward or backward on the dates to get to Sunday’s readings.)
For even more resources for breaking open this Sunday’s readings, head over to The Sunday Website.
The image for Breaking Open the Word at Home is taken from a 17th century illuminated manuscript by an anonymous (but very talented) artist. The text is from the beginning of the Book of Sirach, chapter 1, verses 1-12, which begins: “All wisdom is from the Lord and remains with him forever.”