Sunday Liturgy Commentary
The Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 10, 2024
Lectionary Readings: 2Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Ps 137 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21
Theme: The Land Lay Desolate … It Kept Sabbath

An image from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus can guide our reflection on the readings for today’s liturgy: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14). The starkness of that image is softened by compassion, in the phrases that follow: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone may have eternal life – God did not send his Son to condemn the world but that it might be saved — the light has come into the world and those who do what is true come to the light.” There is a shadow side to that reality; we hear John’s concern: “those who do not believe are condemned already for they have not believed in the Son of God – people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil – all who do evil hate the light, where their deeds may be exposed.” 

      Francis Maloney (NJBC 1422-23) comments that, in today’s gospel, Jesus proclaims for the first time, the basic Johannine theology of “salvific incarnation.” John views the cross not as humiliation but as Jesus’ consummation of his life’s purpose. One of the techniques used by the evangelist to make that point is the Greek verb hypsothenai, which has a double meaning: to lift up physically or to exalt (3.14), reminding us that the crucifixion is simultaneously the lifting up of Jesus on the cross, and the exaltation of Jesus. This very important play on words is always associated with the title “Son of Man.” The cross, the focal point of the human revelation of God, in the Johannine scheme of things, is never very far from the Son of Man sayings. From a slightly different perspective, Brown (INT 342) reflects on the “realized eschatology” that is dominant in John’s writings: Jesus is God’s Son, who has come into the world, bringing God’s own life, so that everyone who believes in him has eternal life.

     2 Chronicles and Ephesians enrich that reflection. Paul Kobelski (NJBC 887) notes that while Ephesians uses Pauline vocabulary (grace, faith, works, boasting), there is a shift from Paul’s description of justification by faith apart from works of the law. Here salvation is the result of God’s gift alone. For David Kraemer (JANT 391), works are not excluded by Ephesians; however, they are not the cause, but a product of our salvation, “which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (vs 10).  

     The Chronicles passage names the means of conversion required by the infidelity of the priests and people in their desecrating the temple, mocking the messengers of God, scoffing at his prophets, despising his words. Rampant destruction in Jerusalem and exile in Babylon are imposed at the hands of the Chaldeans. Through the tragic period of seventy years, “the land lay desolate, it kept sabbath” (vs 21) – a powerful symbol! A promise declared by Jeremiah sustained the people (Jer. 25.11-12), until the decree of Cyrus of Persia in 538 set in motion the return from exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. 

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. The keeping of the sabbath was an important key to the renewal of the people. What does the sabbath mean for you now and how do you live it? 2. “Son of God/Son of Man” – what does each of these titles contribute to your image of Jesus?

Bibliography: Brown, R. E., et al., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1990); Brown, R. E., An Introduction to the New Testament (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2010) Levine, A-J, Brettler, M. Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, New York, 2017).

This Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006


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