4th Sunday of Lent Year B – March 10, 2024

 4th Sunday of Lent Year B – March 10, 2024

2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

 

Theme:  Lenten Season is the Time We Need to Become Aware of Our Sins, Confess Them, and Believe in Jesus in “Daylight.”

 

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent. The Scripture readings of the First Sunday prepared us to know that the Lenten season is the time to resist Satan with all his temptations. The liturgy of the Second Sunday reminded us that the Lenten season is our “journey of faith.” Therefore, we need to follow God’s commandments, especially keeping his day (Sunday) holy. Whenever we “transform our hearts, which are the Temples of the Holy Spirit and the Houses of God, into marketplaces” (which means whenever we sin), we are reminded to let Jesus enter our hearts through the sacrament of confession and cleanse them as he did with the Jewish Temple in the Gospel story. Now, the liturgy of this Fourth Sunday calls us to become aware of our spiritual alienation caused by our sins, confess them, and live out our discipleship in the “daylight.”

 The first reading we heard today recounts two remarkable events in the history of the people of Israel. The first event is how the people of Israel failed to keep the Sinai covenant. As a result, the Babylonians destroyed their city, Jerusalem, and their Temple and deported them to exile in Babylon. The sacred author commences our passage by telling us that the sins of the people were the cause of their deportation to exile in Babylon and the destruction of their city and its Temple (v. 14). He also mentions the compassion that God showed to them before the destruction happened by sending his prophets with messages of warning and calling them to repentance (for instance Micah and Jeremiah record these warnings. See Micah 3:12; Jeremiah 7 and 26) to avoid the catastrophe of deportation and the ruins of the city and its Temple. However, the people of Israel chose to ignore God’s calls and continued their wrongdoings, especially concerning temple rituals (vv. 15-16). The second remarkable event is the return of the Babylonian exiles to their land through Cyrus of Persia, which attests to the fidelity of God to maintain the covenant forged with his people despite their unfaithfulness (vv. 22-23).  

Through this first reading, our Holy Mother Church tries to teach us that the people of Israel in Babylonian exile represent all who are alienated from God by sin. In the past three Sundays, we were reminded to stay in different covenants that God established with us through Noah (first Sunday), Abraham (second Sunday), and Moses at Sinai (third Sunday). Despite all these teachings and warnings, like the people of Israel, we ignore God when we persist with our wrongdoings. Our first reading teaches us, first, to become aware of our spiritual alienation caused by our sins and, second, to decide to return to God through the sacrament of confession. When we regret our wrongdoings and confess them sincerely, God forgives us and enables our return to the community of his faithful. Saint Paul, in our second reading, tells us that God shows us his mercy because of the love he has for us. The grace of God saves us. Our Lenten observances are not meant to earn God’s love but rather to respond generously to his love and mercy that we have already received in Jesus Christ. Our Gospel tells us much more about God’s love for us.

Our Gospel is the last part of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. To better understand it, we need to know its beginning. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, leader, and teacher. Note that as a Pharisee, he believed in the resurrection, and as a leader and teacher, he presented and influenced the larger Jewish community. He came to Jesus at night to have a conversation regarding how he and the Jewish community he represented believed who Jesus was (John 3:1-2, 10). In his answer, Jesus changed the topic and invited Nicodemus to reflect on the need to be born from above as a condition to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was confused as he imagined literal rebirth from the womb, while Jesus meant rebirth through “water and Spirit” (vv. 3-9). Jesus asked Nicodemus how he could be a teacher of Israel and not understand that topic (v. 10). Then Jesus instructed him about what he meant by being born from above and why it mattered (vv. 11-21).

Our Gospel passage picks up from v. 14. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will be lifted up just as Moses lifted up the serpent of bronze in the desert so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (v. 14.) Note that Moses lifted up the serpent of bronze in their journey from Egypt to the promised land. It happened that during that forty-year journey in the desert, the people of Israel were being bitten by seraph serpents that God sent among them because they sinned against God. All those who were bitten by serpents were dying. When they repented, to save them, God asked Moses to lift up a serpent of bronze and invited all those bitten by the seraph serpents to look at it for healing (Numbers 21: 4-9). By comparing this bronze serpent to his crucifixion, Jesus is teaching Nicodemus and all of us that those who look at him, crucified on the cross, with faith and willingness to repent will have eternal life (v. 15). On Good Friday, we will commemorate Jesus’ passion and death. Our Lord will be lifted up on the cross. The liturgy of Good Friday gives us an opportunity to “look at Jesus crucified on the cross” solemnly and venerate his Holy Cross. Let us do it with great faith and willingness to repent. Also, let us ensure that we have Jesus' crucifixes in our homes and look at them regularly in prayer with faith.  

Jesus told Nicodemus that he, Jesus, is the gift God gave to the world because God loves his people so much (v. 16.) This gift became effective, first, in the Incarnation when God decided to come down on earth, take our human flesh, and live with and among us. Second, God’s gift of his Son was fulfilled when Jesus laid his life on the cross for our redemption. Jesus is God’s gift to us to redeem us. This redemption depends on our faith in Jesus. If we believe in him, we will be saved, but if we do not believe in him, we condemn ourselves because his mission is not to condemn but to save the people (vv. 17-18).

Jesus closes his conversation with Nicodemus by revealing to him and us that faith in him that he is talking about fosters confidence to live out our discipleship, not in the darkness, but in “daylight” (vv. 19-21). This is in contrast with this private conversation that Nicodemus initiated with Jesus at night. He was afraid of his fellow Jews who did not believe in Jesus. So, he came at night in private to let Jesus know that he and a small group of people he represented believed in him. Here, Jesus challenged him to live out his faith openly in the light, not the darkness. In this Mass, Jesus challenges us, too, to live out our faith openly so that our “works may be seen as done in God.” (v. 21).    

Easter is approaching. A good celebration of the mystery of our salvation in Easter will depend on three things that the Scripture readings of this Sunday invite us to do. We are called to become aware of our sins, confess them, and believe in Jesus openly in “daylight.” Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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