Fourth Sunday of Lent
29 Feb 2024

Reading I: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16; 19-23
Psalm: 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Reading II: Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: John 3:14-21


Right at the beginning of his beautiful and powerful book, Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle tells a story about a friend, fellow Jesuit Bill Cain. Bill was taking care of his elderly father, who was dying of cancer. Every night, in a kind of reversal of roles, Bill would put his father to bed and read him to sleep. Except it took a long time for his father to go to sleep. He would just lie there, listening to his son read, with a big smile on his face. Frustrated, since he was tired from a long day of caregiving, Bill would plead with his father: “Look, here’s the idea. I read to you and you fall asleep.” So his father would apologize and close his eyes—only to open one eye pretty soon and smile again at his son. And then he’d open the other eye and smile some more. 

After his father died, Bill realized that what happened night after night was really the story of a father who just couldn’t take his eyes off his son. Greg Boyle writes: “How much more so God?” 

Fourteenth century Greek Orthodox theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, spoke of the “crazy love of God”: “Just as human affection, when it abounds, overpowers those who love and causes them to be beside themselves, so God’s love for [humanity] emptied God.” “Not mild, not temperate,” writes the poet Denise Levertov, is “God’s love for the world.” In his beautiful encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”), Pope Benedict speaks of this “not mild, not temperate,” crazy love of God as God’s passion for us, actually using the word for passionate, human love: eros. “God is the absolute and ultimate source of all Being,” he writes, “but this universal principle of creation—the Logos…–is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love.” God just can’t take God’s eyes off of us!

Probably the craziest, boldest, most intemperate thing God has ever done is proclaimed to us in the most famous line of today’s gospel reading: God so loved the world that God gave us the beloved Son. God so loved the world that God’s son, Jesus, would be “lifted up” on a cross so that—as Jesus says later in John 12—he will draw all people to himself, and so to God. The craziest, boldest, and most intemperate thing that God has ever done is to become one with humanity, and—we must say today—one with the created universe. 

Going beyond Nicholas, Denise Levertov, and Pope Benedict, Elizabeth Johnson argues that God in Jesus not only becomes human; God becomes flesh. The atoms that became God’s human body, she writes, “were once part of other creatures. The genetic structure of the cells in his body were kin to the flowers, the fish, the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas.” God’s human body would know hunger, and pain, and death—like the over 30,000 victims in Gaza, like a field mouse snatched up by a hawk, like our wounded earth. God so loved the world that God sent the only son. The Word made flesh shows us, reveals to us, that God can never take God’s eyes off of us. Not one of us. Not one particle of our vast and mysterious universe.

Our first reading from Second Chronicles tells us that God indeed gets frustrated with us, even so angry with us—angry because of God’s great love for us—that “there was no remedy.” We fall victim to the evil we do. But God’s love is still there. God can’t help Godself. God still works for our deliverance and our healing. The first reading reminds me of the powerful scene in Hosea Chapter 11, where God reminisces how God taught Israel to walk, how God took Israel in the divine arms, how God lifted Israel and held Israel close (1, 3 and 4). And yet “the more I called them, the more they went from me” (20). God is furious and sees how, because of this, Israel will return to Egypt, as it were, and be in bondage to Assyria (5). And yet God says: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? … my heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger …” (6). This is the crazy, “not mild, not temperate,”passionate love of God, who gives the son to the world, the Word who becomes flesh.

God “who is rich in mercy,” we read in our second reading from Ephesians, “because of the great love God had for us,” offers us the gift of “the immeasurable riches of grace and kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” All is grace. We are surrounded by God’s love.

Perhaps these readings today can once more help us realize the depth and breadth of the crazy love of God. And maybe such a realization is the deepest meaning of this Lenten season, and the deepest meaning as well of what it means to repent as we move inexorably towards our celebration of the paschal triduum in just three weeks. The entrance antiphon of today’s Mass calls us to rejoice. It is Laetare Sunday. Yes. Rejoice and be glad, and be amazed how our God has so crazily loved the world.


Steve Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD Professor of Mission and Culture, Emeritus