4th Sunday of Lent (2 Chr 36:14-17a, 19-23, Ps 137, Jn 3:14-21) “Songs of Babylon & Zion” PDF Version
Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B (2018): 2 Chr 36:14-17a, 19-23, Ps 137, Jn 3:14-21
Much to my younger brothers dismay, I was in no rush to get my driver’s license and start driving us to school. By car, it took about 25-30 minutes to get from our home in Millarville to our school in Okotoks. By school bus, it took anywhere from 1-1.5 hours depending on how many kids we had to pick up from various acreages and farms in the Foothills of Alberta. I for one quite enjoyed the long bus ride as it gave me time to finish my homework and most importantly put on my oversized headphones and disappear into the world of music. For me this would range from Hip-hop and various types of electronic music, to some indie rock, plenty of Mozart and pop music from Japan. Country music was the one omission from my play list.
One genre of music I very much enjoyed was Reggae and Dub music from Jamaica. One of the reasons I was drawn to it was all the biblical themes that would come up in the music. At that point in my teenage life of faith, I was reluctant to practice my piety in a way that my friends could see but I spent time in private conversation with God and had a thirst for the truth that comes from the Source of all that is good, true and beautiful. Strangely, though I was raised Catholic and had no intention to ever become part of a different religion, many Reggae artists, who belonged to various Protestant churches or the Rastafarian movement, inspired me to learn more about biblical realities such as Babylon, Zion, and the experience of exile from the land of one’s birth.
For many in Jamaica, the stories from the Book of Chronicles, that recount the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the People of Israel from the land of Milk and Honey to bondage in the Land of the mighty Chaldeans, offered a way to express and relate to their own experience of exile and oppression.
Many a Reggae poet say the island of Jamaica is a new Babylon, a land where African slaves were brought against their will and many sought to return to Zion, which in the mid 20th century was thought to be Ethiopia which was then ruled by the Emperor Haile Selassie, one of the first African born leaders to govern his nation after winning independence from Italy in the aftermath of WWII.
Psalms such as Psalm 137, that spoke of singing by the Rivers of Babylon, weeping for Zion and longing from freedom and liberation, were now reinterpreted by Reggae artists and other songwriters as a psalm for the modern era, where people spoke of their longings to return to their homeland and escape the structures of oppression and bondage that made them feel like being in the Babylon of ancient days.
This is one modern example of how the Holy Word of God, in the historical books of the Old Testament, the Psalms of King David and the Good News of Jesus Christ will forever be relevant and applicable to men and women in every time and era.
In our own times, the experience of exile, oppression, separation from family and homeland and the longing for Zion, whether that be one’s land of birth or the heavenly Mt Zion in the kingdom which is to come, are experiences that are very much alive and present for many the world over.
It maybe that here in Calgary, Alberta we feel to be quite at home, in Zion already, but for many to have come to our home may continue to feel like being in Babylon. How many workers from foreign countries find being in our city and country to be a place of isolation, loneliness, unjust treatment by employers and separation from family and homeland?
Or how many refugees in our nation, while being grateful to start life anew, also long to return and rebuild their shattered homelands, just as Israel longed to return to Jerusalem even though they knew it lay in ruins and would require great effort and sacrifice to rebuild?
Or how many experience what we could call spiritual exile, feeling far from God, unable to find a faith community to support them, and seeing their lives to be a perpetual captivity in the Babylon of loneliness, fear and separation from God and others, with only a glimmer of hope that Zion is real and calls them to know its joy and peace.
The 4th Sunday of Lent gives us a chance to consider the ways in which we and others may be feeling like life is presently in Babylon and this is not where we want to be. It maybe that the Entrance Antiphon of today’s Mass that proclaims we should rejoice with Jerusalem for our exile and suffering has passed is not a reality in my life at this time, and that we genuinely struggle to believe and know that God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.
We know we should rejoice in the Lord always and we dare to believe Christ loves us, died for us, and shall not condemn us if we remain faithful to Him. But often we doubt, we do not feel that God is near, we feel like exiles from Zion and Babylon is all that remains.
But as I learned from Reggae poets, you must strive to believe in God’s goodness, you must ask for the gift of a stronger faith, you must believe that you can be loved by God and even if you sing by the rivers of Babylon, weeping, you can still believe that Zion is out there and God in His providence will bring us to its joys.
Thomas a Kempis once said that “nothing, how little so ever it be, if it is suffered for God’s sake, can pass without merit in the sight of God.” May we believe this to be true and ask God for renewed strength in all that shall come to pass.