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

The Serpent in the Wilderness

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Lent 5, Year A: John 11:1-45 : Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

Jesus Raising Lazarus

Jesus Raising Lazarus – iStock.com/traveler1116

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

This week’s Gospel lesson is a pretty famous one. Before Jesus rose from the dead, he brought another man back from the dead, his dear friend named Lazarus.

The first part of the story is a little puzzling. Jesus receives a message from Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, telling him his beloved friend is ill. Jesus hears it and said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Continue reading

Lent 4, Year A: John 9:1-41: Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind

Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9), published 1877

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind – Source: iStock.com/ZU_09

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

This week’s gospel lesson is about Jesus healing a blind man. The story starts out with Jesus out walking with his disciples. They saw the blind man and the followers asked Jesus why the man was born blind. There was a common belief at that time (and with some religious people today) that any illness or disability was punishment for sin. They asked if he was born blind because of his own sin or that of his parents. (Seems puzzling to me—how could he have sinned before he was even born?)

Jesus said it wasn’t sin. He said he was born blind to show what great things God can do. Then he said, “While it is daytime, we must continue doing the work of the one who sent me. The night is coming, and no one can work at night. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Continue reading

Lent 3, Year A: John 4: 5-42: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – iStock.com/Ruskpp

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

This week’s gospel lesson is another time Jesus is speaking to just one person, though it leads to him teaching to a whole town.

An important aspect of this story is that Jesus and his disciples are in Samaria (you may remember it from the story of the Good Samaritan). There are very few Samaritans left, fewer than 800 according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritans). They have a religion apparently very similar to Judaism, but different enough that they could not agree and would not accept each other at all at the time of this story. From what I have read, nowadays they are seen as a sect of Judaism rather than a group of unacceptable heretics. But at the time of this story, they were very much outsiders to the other Jewish people and the two groups did not get along well. That’s why the parable of the Good Samaritan would have been shocking at the time—that the one who was good was an unacceptable Samaritan. Continue reading

Lent 2, Year A: John 3: 1-17: Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus – Source: iStock.com/Ruskpp

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.

The gospel lesson this week is a little different. Instead of Jesus teaching crowds of people or his disciples, he is talking to just one man. The man is named Nicodemus, and he’s an important man among the Jewish people. He comes to see Jesus at night—I have read that this is because he didn’t want to be seen consulting Jesus openly so he comes by cover of darkness. I don’t think that’s explicitly stated, but it could be true. So he comes to Jesus to find out more about him. He says, “Teacher, we know that you are a teacher sent from God. No one can do these miraculous signs that you do unless they have God’s help.”

Jesus tells him, “Everyone must be born again. Anyone who is not born again cannot be in God’s kingdom.” Continue reading