The Importance of ‘With’
User's Guide to Sunday, March 15
Sunday, March 15, is the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B).
This week, the Church celebrates two saints who were made great by the company they kept. March 17 is the feast of St. Patrick, who converted Ireland not by starting from zero, but by building on the remarkable work of St. Columba and adding conversion of the ruling class to Columba’s work with the peasants. March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph, who kept the best company of all: Jesus and Mary.
2 Chronicles 36:14-17, 19-23; Psalm 137:1-6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21
This Sunday, the Church draws attention to the importance of the company we keep.
The company we keep starts with Christ himself.
The Gospel explains that he will be lifted up and that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life because “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.”
To believe in him means stepping into the light of truth and rejecting a life that would “prefer darkness to light.”
The image of choosing darkness and light is a perfect metaphor for our lives in Christ.
In the dark, we move cautiously and stumble. In the light, everything is laid bare and made clear to us. In the spiritual darkness, we cannot tell right from wrong, we cannot tell “true” from “false,” and the world is colorless and bleak.
In the light, we see the right way to go and can understand what is in front of us and are surrounded on all sides by color.
The second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, describes how this life of light is all about keeping company with Jesus.
As the Ignatius Study Bible points out, the verse repeats the word “with” to explain what happens to us:
“God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ … raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens.”
With Christ, in the company of Jesus, wonderful things happen to us. Without him, we are lost.
Today’s Old Testament readings — the first reading and the Psalm — are meditations on life away from the company of God.
“By the streams of Babylon, we sat and wept,” says the Psalm of the Israelites in the Babylonian exile. They are lost away from the Temple.
The first reading, from Chronicles, describes how they got there:
“Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them. ... 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.”
They didn’t do anything particularly violent or sin in any spectacular way to alienate themselves from God — they simply stopped seeking out his company.
That is exactly what happens in our lives. We don’t denounce Jesus — we just stop listening to him at times. We don’t attack his messengers — we just shrug them off on occasion.
But that leaves us in darkness and sorrow.
Through it all, he is there, waiting to love — not condemn — us. If we do nothing more than step into his presence, it will fill us with light.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.