Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2024

Post Date: March 5, 2024
Author: Ric Cross

A Reflection on the Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2024

Reading 1: 2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Reading 2: Eph 2:4-10
Gospel: Jn 3:14-21

We don’t often have Sunday readings from the Books of Chronicles because Chronicles is, in some ways, a repetition of Israel’s history found in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1&2) and Kings (1&2). Those books are referred to as Deuteronomistic History and are meant to tell the history of the Israelite people from the time they entered the Promised Land under the direction of Joshua until the dissolution of the nation in the Babylonian Exile.

It is believed that the Books of Chronicles were originally combined with the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah as a single work and some believe that Ezra himself was the author of these works (see intro. To 1st Chr NAB).  Regardless of the identity of the author, Chronicles was probably composed after the Babylonian Exile, around 400 B.C., when the exiles were returning to Israel and attempting to rebuild the city and their temple. It appears that the author fully understood that Israel’s political greatness was a thing of the past but, if Israel was to survive in the future, it would have to learn from its past mistakes. It must be a people under God, or no people at all. It must be a people who worship God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem as, in the mind of the author; the dynasty established by King David was the ideal of Israelite history. Jerusalem and the divinely established temple must be the center of worship for the Jewish community of his day.

The Greek title of the Books of Chronicles is paralipomena, meaning Things Passed Over in the books of Deuteronomistic History. Consequently, there is some repetition of the history, but it is done by the Chronicler from a little different perspective as mentioned above. As Chronicles was written after the Babylonian Exile, the author could reflect back on the consequences of the sins of the people and their kings, and the consequence of those sins was the exile. Where Deuteronomistic History tells WHAT happened; Chronicles tells us WHY it happened, and the sins of the people and their kings is the WHY of that history.

Our first reading this week comes from chapter 36 of 2nd Chronicles which describes the destruction of the nation of Israel by the Babylonians and the resulting exile of most of the people. The WHY of this destruction was: “The princes, the priests and the people added infidelity to infidelity ….. and polluted the Lord’s temple.”  But it also describes how the exile ended in 538 B.C. when Cyrus, the King of Persia, conquered the Babylonians and decreed that the Israelites should be set free and returned to Israel to rebuild their city and temple. Cyrus is therefore presented to us as an instrument of God to whom God has given “all the kingdoms of the earth” and has charged Cyrus with the responsibility of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. It is significant that Cyrus, a Gentile, becomes a savior of the people of Israel. One could draw a parallel between Cyrus who freed the people from Babylonian slavery; Moses who freed the people from Egyptian slavery; and Christ who saves all people from slavery to sin.

Our Responsorial Psalm comes from a time during the exile when the people wept over the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and longed for a return to the Promised Land.

Our gospel passage is from chapter 3 of the Gospel of John and it would be a good idea to read this passage from the beginning of the chapter. Here Nicodemus represents all of humanity and, through Nicodemus, Jesus tells us that it is not enough to simply believe; we must also be born of water and the Spirit; we must partake of the sacraments, particularly baptism. Jesus uses the analogy of Moses simply mounting the bronze serpent on a staff in the desert (Nm 21) and those who gazed upon it would be cured from a snake bite. But Jesus will also be lifted up, meaning glorified, exalted to glory through the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. As simply gazing upon the bronze serpent raised on a staff saved the people from snake bites in the desert, so gazing upon and believing in the risen Jesus will save all those who do so. But this is not a mere bodily healing as with Moses, it represents universal salvation for those who believe and are born again of water and the Spirit. Those who refuse to believe and be reborn are already condemned.

St. Paul reiterates this message in our second reading, for those who believe and are reborn are saved by grace and raised up with Jesus in glory. And that grace is a gift from God for those who believe and are reborn. Grace cannot be earned through good works; even an atheist can be generous. The good works that Paul speaks of here are the works that “God has prepared in advance that we (the faithful) should live in them.”

The golden thread this week is salvation. The Old Testament reminds us of how often God saved the Israelites from oppression by other nations brought on by the sins of the people. The New Testament reminds us that salvation in the Old was a precursor to salvation in the New. The New is hidden in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New.

Reference: Illustration © LPI

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