Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 3:14-21: Snake on a Pole

The Serpent in the Wilderness


You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

I grew up in Evangelical churches where we were quoting John 3:16 all the time. It was everywhere. It was key to the whole gospel, central to everything. Yet how did I never know that this passage started out with a reference to that kind of weird time Moses lifted up a snake in the desert?

Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. It is the same with the Son of Man. He must be lifted up too. Then everyone who believes in him can have eternal life.

John 3:14-15, Easy-to-Read Version

This is referring to a passage in Numbers, which naturally is our Old Testament reading for this Sunday. When the Israelites were dying from snake bites, God told Moses to put a brass snake on a pole for them to look at and be healed. It didn’t prevent the snakes from biting or drive off the snakes (no St. Patrick kind of thing), it just healed the bites they got. (See Numbers 21:4-9).

So Jesus is being compared to the snake life up on a  pole. The snake is lifted up and when people look to it, they are healed. So the comparison says that Jesus will be lifted up (literally lifted up onto the cross and then lifted up in his resurrection) and people will look to him and be healed not from just snake bites but from death.

I want to share a couple passages from a great sermon from the Rev. Ben E. Helmer from Sermons that Work on the Episcopal Digital Network website:

Deep Lent, as some call this time, is when we struggle with the darkness, and may not always find answers to why it is so pervasive. We cannot answer why evil seems so prevalent because we can’t readily see it in our own choices. So, asking to be part of the light will reveal what is hidden in our darkness, and most of us would prefer not to see. That is why self-examination and confession are rare and avoided by most of us. But we have strayed like lost sheep, we have followed too much the desires of our own hearts, to the point where, left on our own, we are truly lost.

And also this:

The only reason Jesus could go to the cross was because he dared to walk into the darkness. We have to do the same if we are going to follow him the rest of the Lenten journey. That means leaving a lot of things behind, including the world’s wisdom for how to live in the darkness by making everything pleasant for ourselves.

So let us look to the example of a loving Jesus on the cross as we await his death and resurrection during Lent. We will come through this darkness as he did and come to joy.

Third Sunday in Lent, Year B: John 2:13-22: Temple of Injustice

Granada - fresco Jesus Cleanses the Temple


You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

In this week’s passage, Jesus goes to Jerusalem. He creates a big scene in the temple there, overturning tables of the money traders, driving out people and animals, and cracking a whip (literally). It’s an amazing story about a Jesus usually seen as gentle and compassionate.

I really like what I read about this incident in The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I highly recommend the book to anyone for a deep dive into Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. Christians have often been taught that Jesus is objecting to the sellers and money changers themselves, though what they are doing is legitimate business that helps people purchase animals for sacrifice–it’s part of the rituals of the temple for people to achieve purification. They were probably very busy close to Passover. They point out that the phrase “den of robbers” (usually in the English translation) doesn’t mean a den where people are robbed, but rather where the robbers go to hide out after robbing. Jesus is condemning the temple in a different way–for it’s collaboration with the evil domination system and the injustice of the time rather than for the particular rituals being carried out at that moment. In fact, Jesus declares that if they tear down the temple, he will rebuild it in three days.

But the temple Jesus meant was his own body. After he was raised from death, his followers remembered that he had said this. So they believed the Scriptures, and they believed the words Jesus said.

John 2: 21-22 (Easy to Read Version)

This made me think about Christians today. Some of us collude with those who would oppress the marginalized and with racist and sexist systems. It’s disturbing to see Christians siding with cruel injustice instead of standing up for the oppressed. It’s something I will examine in my own motives and actions.

Second Sunday in Lent, Year B: Mark 8:31-38: The Path of Death

Ash wednesday cross, crucifix made of ash


You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

We really see the themes of Lent in today’s passage. Jesus is teaching his followers that he will suffer and will not be accepted by elite leaders and priests. He tells them he will die. But Peter doesn’t like this teaching and basically scolds Jesus for saying such things. Jesus responds, “Get away from me, Satan! You don’t care about the same things God does. You care only about things that people think are important.”  Ouch. Peter is one of his most devoted followers, but even he does not understand–perhaps cannot understand until after Easter.

Then Jesus goes to call his followers to him and tells them:

Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it. It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost. You could never pay enough to buy back your life.

Mark 8: 34b-37 (Easy-to-Read Version)

So we continue to observe Lent as a time of self-sacrifice, discovery, and heart preparation. We must be willing to carry the cross–meaning to give up ourselves and follow Jesus. What is getting in the way of our service to God and to others?

I like this thought from Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of Mark by Marcus J. Borg:

The way of the cross is about life and death; to avoid it in order to save one’s life is to lose one’s life, and to embrace it is to save one’s life. The path of death is the path of life.

I love a good paradox and I love to let it speak for itself. Dwell on this paradox.


First Sunday in Lent, Year B: Mark 1:9-15: Forty Days

Stained Glass - The Temptation of Christ


You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday in Lent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In this week’s passage, Jesus leaves his hometown of Nazareth and goes to see John the Baptist, who is already ministering in the wilderness. John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River and as Jesus comes out of the water, he sees the sky open up. Then the Bible says the Spirit comes down like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with you.”

From there, the Spirit sends Jesus alone into the desert, where he spends 40 days and is tempted by Satan. But it also says angels come to help him.

Then after John is put in prison, Jesus goes to Galilee to share the Good News of God. He says, “The right time is now here. God’s kingdom is very near. Change your hearts and lives, and believe the Good News!”

This is a very succinct account that gets longer in other Gospels, but even with so little here, I see why it’s the reading on the first Sunday of Lent. As we begin our journey into the 40 days of Lent, a journey of sacrifice, dedication, preparation, and spiritual discovery, we read about the 40 days Jesus spent alone, tempted, and in prayer and preparation at the beginning of his ministry. I love Lent and I love the symbolism of the church year, traveling with Jesus from the anticipation of Advent to the joy of Christmas to the discovery of Epiphany to the reverence of Lent to the pain of Good Friday to the glory of Easter to the mystery of Pentecost. Let us go forth on our journey to change our hearts and lives, as Jesus asks us to do.

Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 9:2-9: Transfiguration

Bruges - Transfiguration of the Lord  in st. Jacobs church


You can see all the lectionary readings for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday—it’s all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing sort of more than human—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah, ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes.  The Bible says, “Jesus was changed.His clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone on earth could make them. Then two men were there talking with Jesus. They were Elijah and Moses.

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good that we are here. We will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then.  But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the one I love. Obey him!”

Imagine how surprised they were at all this. When they looked again, they saw that Jesus was alone. As they went down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they saw until “after the Son of Man rises from death.”

There’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t attempt to explain it much.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice.  The most I can say is imagine if George Washington and Abraham Lincoln suddenly appearing in front of you (well, that’s not a 100% perfect comparison, but it might help) and your friend and teacher was glowing from within in a miraculous way. How would you react? How would you think God was at work?

Continuing the theme of Epiphany, this passage highlights the authority and unique preeminence of Jesus. Mark wants us to know Jesus is not like other teachers. And the same voice that called out at his baptism calls out again to single him out as the Son of God.


Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:29-39: Jesus Heals and Prays



You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s passage follows right after last week’s story. Jesus leaves the synagogue with his followers. They went to the home of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother-in-law was ill in bed with a bad fever. They told Jesus about her, so he went to her bed, took her hand, and helped her stand up. At that moment she was healed and the fever left her.

Then, that night, people came to the house, bringing many sick people to be healed. They also brought the demon-possessed. Mark says everyone in the town gathered at the door. Jesus healed the sick and forced the demons out. The passage also says, “he would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.”

The next morning he got up very early and left the house in the dark to be alone and pray. Some of his followers came to find him and said, “Everyone is looking for you!”

He tells them it is time to move on to share God’s message with other people in other towns. “That is why I came.” So he traveled all over Galilee, speaking in the synagogues and healing.

The takeaway from this passage is much like last week and other Epiphany readings. Jesus is unique as a teacher and healer. He draws crowds wherever he goes and does wondrous things. Also, he is doing the work that characterizes the rest of his ministry–teaching, healing, casting out demons. He also takes time to go off alone and pray. He makes that time, even though people are constantly seeking him out. His time with God is a priority. Again, I see this also as a lesson for us–our ministry is also to help others, but not to neglect our own spirituality in the process. Love others, love God (like Matthew 22:36-40).

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:21-28: Called to Teach and Heal

Jesus Drives Out a Demon


You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

In today’s passage, Jesus and his friend arrive in the city of Capernaum. Jesus goes to the synagogue to teach people on the Sabbath. They were amazed by him. The Bible says, “He did not teach like their teachers of the law. He taught like someone with authority.” A  man possessed by an evil spirit is also at the synagogue. The man shouted at Jesus:

“Jesus of Nazareth! What do you want with us? Did you come to destroy us? I know who you are—God’s Holy One!”

Jesus, his voice full of warning, said, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The evil spirit made the man shake. Then the spirit made a loud noise and came out of him.

Mark 1: 24-25 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Pretty dramatic stuff! Mark says the people are amazed as this is something new happening and at his authority to command even evil spirits. Again, the idea of him having authority unseen before. So the news about Jesus spreads all through Galilee after this.


I struggle with reading about demonic possession in the Bible–like what does it mean in our more scientific time? As a college student,  I actually attended a service where the leadership started to attempt to cast out a demon, but I found it disturbing and weird, so I got up and walked out and didn’t go back to that church. What was actually happening when Jesus cast out demons? I don’t know. Perhaps it was just a first-century understanding of a severe mental illness and that’s what Jesus was healing.

I think there are two important elements in this story that explain why it’s part of our Epiphany readings, which have so far all about how special Jesus is and about calling us into following him. First, note how the people marveled at his authority–he was not like other teachers, because he taught and acted with authority–Jesus was unlike anyone else. Like the rest of the Epiphany readings, we see Jesus as unique and set apart.

Second, this story is about Jesus beginning his ministry and a major part of his ministry was going out among the people, teaching and healing–in this case a spiritual kind of healing. Our work in following him is also a ministry of teaching and healing. We are called to go out into the world to share the good news of his kingdom and to bring healing and love with us to help his kingdom come.

Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: Mark 1:14-20: Following Jesus

Bologna - Jesus call the Apostles St. Andrew and John


You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s story is at the early part of Jesus’ ministry. He goes into Galilee to tell people about God. He tells them that God’s kingdom is near and they need to change their hearts and believe the Good News.


One day as he’s walking by Lake Galilee, he sees two brothers, Simon and Andrew. They are fisherman so of course they are doing their work and throwing a net into the lake for fish.

Jesus tells them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a different kind of fishermen. You will bring in people, not fish.”  They immediately stop fishing and follow him.  I love the idea of this.  Here are these two regular guys out fishing for a living.  Jesus walks up and is like, “OK, quit that and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” And they’re like, “OK, let’s go.”  In the version of this story found in Luke’s gospel, more happens (you can read it here) but it’s amazing to imagine these two guys just dropping their nets and taking off with Jesus.  How amazing Jesus was and is to affect people that way.

Jesus continues walking by the lake and sees James and John, who are called the sons of Zebedee (they are also brothers). They were preparing their nets on their boat. Their father and other men were also in the boat. Jesus also told these brothers to come, so they up and left the boat, leaving their father and the other men to follow Jesus. Again, there’s more to the story in the link above in Luke’s gospel. Again I love the idea that Jesus so wowed them that they abandoned their profession right then and there and went to follow him.

What are you prepared to change in your life to follow Christ? Is there anything you need to abandon to be a true Christ-follower? How can you change your heart and life to really follow him?


Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B: 1 Samuel 3:1-10: God’s Call

the Book of 1 Samuel Reading The New International Version


You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of 1 Samuel.

I particularly like today’s Old Testament story, which is why I’m writing about it instead of my usual interest in the New Testament reading.

Samuel was at the time of the story just a boy serving the priest Eli in the temple. The Jewish historian Josephus says that he was 12, but scholars think he may have been older than that–so not a very young child and perhaps a teen.

The author points out that at that time the Lord did not speak to people often or give them visions.

One night Eli had gone to bed and Samuel lay down in the temple near the Ark of the Covenant. While he lay there, the Lord called him. Samuel responded, “Here I am,” but he thought it was Eli calling him. So he went to Eli to ask what he wanted. Eli told him he didn’t call him and to go back to bed. You can imagine the old, tired priest having his sleep disturbed by the youngster–maybe he was a little crabby about it.


Samuel went back to bed, but again the Lord called him by name. And he again ran to see what Eli wanted–and again Eli sent him back to bed.

The Bible says Samuel just didn’t know it was God calling because he hadn’t heard from the Lord like that before.

Samuel did not yet know the Lord because God had not spoken directly to him before.

Again the Lord called Samuel and again Samuel went back to see what Eli wanted. But this time Eli understood what had been happening, so he told Samuel to go to bed again and if he heard the call again to say, Speak, Lord. I am your servant, and I am listening.


Samuel went back to bed and again he heard the call. This time he responded, “Speak. I am your servant, and I am listening.”


And God spoke to him and from that moment Samuel became a great prophet and the one to anoint two kings over Israel.

This story is simple but beautiful. I can see it in my mind’s eye like a play. The boy waking at the sound of his name and just assuming it’s his master–the priest groggily sending him to bed until he realizes the boy is having a vision–the boy obeying God and responding to the call. It reminds us that we don’t always hear the Lord calling or understand what he wants of us. If we did there wouldn’t be so many disagreements within or among churches and denominations, for one thing. Many people think they hear clearly and that only their church hears clearly. So while we have to be open to God’s call and instruction, we also have to be careful not to mistake it. I think a good start is to consider love. Are you moving toward being more loving and loved, or away from that? Any word from God would move us toward love.


The Epiphany, Year B: Matthew 2:1-12: Light in Darkness



You can see all the lectionary readings for The Epiphany, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew. I have also chosen to do the Epiphany readings even though it doesn’t fall on a Sunday. The readings for The First Sunday after the Epiphany can be found here.

The story of the Epiphany is the story of the Wise Men (or Magi) coming to visit baby Jesus–a story you’ve likely heard before. The singular word for Magi is Magus (where we get the word magician), so they were men of learning, some maybe astrologers reading portents in the sky. We have a  tradition of them being kings and that there were three of them, but that’s not found in the text itself–there’s no indication of a number other than that they presented three gifts. These Wise Men believed they could see the news of a king’s birth in the stars, so they came to find the king who had been born. They only knew he was born king of the Jews, so they first went to the leader of the Jews (but a leader who was a puppet king and collaborator with Roman rule–Herod). Herod was not happy to hear a king had been born, but he didn’t tell the Magi that. He told them to let him know when they found him and he had priests and teachers of the Jewish law advise the Magi on where a king might be born.

The Magi went on to Bethlehem, where they found Jesus, honored him, and gave him expensive gifts. Then they went home a different way because God warned them in a dream not to tell Herod where to find the baby Jesus.

In The First Christmas, a great little book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, they talk about the theme of light in the darkness in this story.

The story of the star does not make a statement about an astronomical phenomenon, but a statement about Jesus: his birth is the coming of the light that draws wise men of the Gentiles to its radiance.

The First Christmas (p. 182, Kindle Edition)


This makes me think of my last post about Jesus being both the Word of God and the light shining in the darkness. Jesus is that for us from that day to this.