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Fifth Sunday of Lent: Now is a perfect time to revisit our image of God

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Sunday Scripture readings, March 21, 2021: Fifth Sunday of Lent

1) Jer 31:31-34   Psalm 51:3-4 12-13, 14-15   2) Heb 5:7-9   Gospel: Jn 12:20-33

Lent is a perfect time to revisit our image of God

Over the centuries, artists have attempted to depict God in paint, sculpture, stone and stained glass. Their challenge is to show the invisible mystery of God in artistic forms visible to the senses.

Some artists depict God as a ray of pure, radiant light streaming out of the heavens, while other artists show God with his powerful hand emerging from the heavenly realm. Perhaps the most recognizable artistic image of God is an old bearded figure clothed in flowing robes, surrounded by heavenly hosts of angels, and seated amidst the clouds on a regal throne.

Jem Sullivan writes for Catholic News Service (CNS photo/courtesy Jem Sullivan)

So much in the spiritual life depends on our image of God. From our image of God flows our understanding of who God is, who we are as we live and grow in friendship with God.

Do we have an image of God as a distant and harsh being? Or do we imagine God as an unpredictable and remote reality who weaves in and out of our lives at will? While we know in our minds that God is love, do our hearts still cling to an image of God as a harsh, judging and unforgiving authority figure?

The Bible offers many compelling, beautiful images of God, rooted in God’s own words and deeds in the history of salvation, such as the first reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Lent is a perfect time to revisit our image of God in the light of God’s word.

From Jeremiah we learn of God’s burning desire to be in friendship with the people he calls to covenant relationship. This is not a picky, distant, uncaring and judging God. Rather, here is an image of God who is love. God desires to be in close communion, writing on his people’s hearts his law of love to bring them genuine happiness and lasting peace:

“I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. … All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”

The prayers of the psalmist also offer powerful images of God. For the psalmist lives in close friendship with God, calling out to God as one friend calls out to another in the troubles and joys of life.

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me,” prays the psalmist while painting the image of a loving, merciful and healing God.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus speaks of his close relationship with God, his Father. Jesus’ earthly life and mission originates in the desire of God to reconcile the world to himself through his life, death and resurrection.

Just as a grain of wheat dies in order to bear fruit, so will Jesus’ death on the cross bring about God’s victory over every sin that separates us from God. Jesus loses his life on the cross and is raised to eternal life with God, his Father.

The sacred event of Jesus’ death on the cross, at the heart of our Lenten journey, is offered as the pattern of our daily lives as we pray, “Speak to me, Lord.”

Question:

How does the word of God shape your image of God?

Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.