Monday, 3rd Week of Lent

            When love binds itself, say by a promise or by the strongest possible bond, which is the marriage vow, love must bind itself freely – or else it is not love anymore but slavery. (Nil Guillemette) In the course of history, God bound himself to a particular people, the Chosen People of Israel. But he had to remind Israel occasionally that he had bound himself to Israel freely. Otherwise, Israel would take God for granted and would thus cease to appreciate the love of God for her.

            Consequently, at times God would intentionally favor a pagan over an Israelite – just to remind his people that his graces were precisely that, graces, something not due nor deserved. Today’s gospel reading refers to two such instances when God favored pagans over Israelites: the pagan Naaman over the Israelite lepers, and the pagan widow of Zarephath over the Israelite widows.

            Something similar happens to Jesus in today’s gospel episode. When he returns to his hometown after a triumphant tour all around the country, his townsfolk expect him to outdo himself in their favor. After all, as Jesus’ compatriots, are they not entitled to a special treatment? Jesus forestalls any attempt of Nazareth’s population to exploit their connection with him in order to have him perform miracles in their favor. And he does this by using the example of former prophets like Elijah and Elisha: neither of them reserved a special treatment for their compatriots.

            God owes no special favors to his people. All his grace is pure gift. We must remember this, otherwise we will forget that if God binds himself to us, it is freely. Like any genuine love, it has no strings attached. That is what makes it so precious, so priceless.

            We receive God’s blessings, not because we are good, but because he is good. So, we must realize that we are not entitled to any gift or privilege from God. We are not entitled to a special treatment. We are not entitled to anything from God. Again, this what makes God’s grace so precious, so priceless.

            May this Lenten season lead us to a deeper appreciation of God’s love for us. May we never forget the fact that God’s love binds itself freely, that God’s grace is freely given – without strings attached.

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