Fourth Sunday of Lent

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“Everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

We all know the adage “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It’s been featured in several modern popular novels and was the title of a 1975 book by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. The so-called “free” lunch apparently originated with nineteenth-century American saloon-keepers offering free food at midday to encourage drinkers – who ended up paying for it indirectly through the price of their drinks. It seems that the first person to point out in these terms that you do not get something for nothing was an American journalist in 1942 who was responding to a politician’s suggestion for spending large sums of money. He said, “Until man acquires the power of creation, someone will always have to pay for a free lunch.” As the world goes, it is indisputable that nothing is given away. Someone has to foot the bill; something is wanted in exchange; everything has its price. To say that everything has its price is, of course, to apply a cost to everything rather than appreciate its value. There is the other saying which is as important and relevant which ‘we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing’. Cost and value are not the same. God’s love costs nothing, but is beyond value.

 Our world is obsessed with cost without looking at value; such obsession leads to the greed and envy which corrupts – this may be the way of the world, but it is not the way of God’s world. In God’s world there is eternal life to be given away, with no strings attached – just given freely, for the sake of love itself. The same is true of a mother’s love – it is freely given and costs nothing, but its value is beyond imagining. The love which the Blessed Virgin had for God when she acceded to his will for her to give birth to Jesus was beyond counting, but its value was above anything that could be understood or imagined in her day. In the Blessed Virgin we have that example of love freely received from God and love freely given to God – the love that costs nothing, but is valued highly above any other expression of emotion. The same is true of mothers in general and in particular – the love of a mother for her children is freely given, its cost nothing, but is beyond measure and value. It is that selfless giving that we acknowledge and celebrate on this Mothering Sunday. As we recall and give thanks for that love, we are reminded that it is this love which forms the foundation of a loving and caring home, a home modelled, we pray, on that in Nazareth when God’s only Son received a loved which spanned the human and divine. Her earthly love was given and she received that divine love which is God’s love.

 The readings today bring home this amazing message – how the divine love of God transcends anything we can imagine or understand. In the first, we see how the Israelites repeatedly turned their back on God, preferring the darkness to God’s light, and so brought disaster on themselves. But God did not give up on them, and the promise made through Jeremiah that their exile would end was fulfilled through the agency of Cyrus, the new king of Persia. In the second reading, Paul tells us that God’s love for the Ephesians is so generous that when they least deserved it, being spiritually dead, they were given the gift of heaven. Not only the Ephesians, but we too, totally undeserving as we are, and through no merit of our own, are presented with this free gift. Not only is it freely given, but it actually gives us freedom itself – freedom from futility, freedom to come into the light, the realm of goodness and of truth, and, above all, of life.

 The Gospel passage describes the way in which God’s total unselfishness, God’s total self-giving, is worked out by Christ coming into the world, not wreaking divine vengeance on sinners but simply offering life. It is in freedom that we accept or reject that life. There is no coercion. If we “prefer darkness to the light”, if we prefer evil deeds to doing good, if we choose deliberately to do wrong, we have chosen the consequences ourselves. No one can force us to be channels of love and self-giving. No one can make us live in the light. But if, having looked upon the face of Christ opening his arms on the cross, we believe that his way is the one we want to follow, then we have all that he can give us – a share in the life of divine bliss, now and for ever.

 People use the expression “awesome” these days to describe quite trivial events. What could be more truly awesome than this sheer generosity of God? It may even upset us a little to realise that all our good works, prayers and churchgoing are not what makes God give us eternal life. That would be to put God under some sort of obligation to us – we’ve done this so now you, God, have to reward us. But we hear today that God is giving us all the benefits of freedom, of salvation, of life with Christ, simply from love. Simply because, being love, God can do no other. We do not have to do anything, just be the people God wants us to be, for our own sake.

 Christ opens his arms on the cross and invites us to believe in him. When we believe, we commit ourselves to living a certain kind of life, the very kind that God intended that we should, which is designed to make us happy. If we can only accept the love that God freely offers us and follow the light of the world, we will receive gifts beyond our own imaginings. As the letter to the Ephesians says, “We are God’s work of art.” If we are reflections of Christ’s love, if we demonstrate the virtues in our lives, bringing happiness to others, it is no work of ours, but God working in us, creating, in the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “something beautiful for God”. There is no free lunch, but there is free eternal life.