Sunday, 3/14/2021, Fourth Sunday of Lent
History, Prophecy & Message
First Reading Commentary: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Today’s reading from Chronicles is a brief snapshot of the history of the Israelites from about 900 BC to about 500 BC. This is the time of the Divided Kingdom followed by the Exile of the Israelites from Judah ending with the time that Cyrus became the king of Persia. But it is more than just history. Like so many events which take place in the Old Testament, it is history which is repeated over and over again. It is also a prophecy which Jesus would warn the Jews about later.
Some people consider history to be a boring subject but studying history gives us the opportunity to look back and learn from what we have done good, and the mistakes that we have made as a people. So, when Jesus delivered the Parable of the Tenants, Matthew 21:33-46, and asked the people if they had ever read Scripture, He was giving a history lesson, but He was also trying to get the people to learn from the mistakes of the Israelites. Jesus wanted the Jews to see that they were repeating the same mistakes.
Unfortunately, there were those who did not learn anything. Namely, the Pharisees who Jesus denounced and again with the same history of the Israelites in today’s reading in mind said to the Pharisees, “I send you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood shed upon earth.”
Just as the Israelites mocked the messengers of God and scoffed the prophets despising all of the warnings, the Jews under the influence of the Pharisees were doing the same thing to Jesus. In fact, when Jesus delivered His parable, the Pharisees were already plotting on how they could kill Jesus.
Seventy years the Israelites would be away from Judah while in exile in Babylon. It was when Cyrus became king of Persia that the LORD allowed the Israelites to return. And only then, because the LORD inspired Cyrus and used the Persian king to carry out His Will so that the Israelites could be with their God in Judah.
With His parable of the Tenants and denunciation of the Pharisees; Jesus prophesized, that the very same thing that happened to the Israelites; was about to happen to non-believing Jews and anyone else who persecuted Gods prophets and messengers. But this time, there would be a twist.
All of us are in exile and we seek to return to our true home in heaven. Jesus appointed the Apostles as the outsiders who would replace the Pharisees and deliver the Good News of the Gospel. Jesus was the one who was persecuted and He would offer up His own life to take away the sins of the world and then, Jesus, would Resurrect in three days thereby defeating death. All of this would pave the way for all of us so that we could eventually get home to the Promised Land.
But there is another powerful message for us in Chronicles today. By using King Cyrus, God demonstrates yet again, that He can and will use anyone who agrees to carry out His Will. How? Think about it: Cyrus was a Persian king—not an Israelite.
Yes, God can and will use anyone and, why shouldn’t He? After all, no matter where we come from, we are all God’s children and God does not give us any more than we can handle. All we have to do is agree and He will take care of the rest.
God’s Love and Grace Are Free
Second Reading Commentary: Ephesians 2:4-10
No matter how bad our children may fall because of their mistakes and in spite of all of their wrong doings, they are still our children and we still love them. We are all God’s children created by God and in spite of our many sins, no matter how serious, God still loves us.
We do nothing and in fact there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s love or to earn God’s grace. God’s love and grace are given to us freely. We cannot buy it and we do not deserve it. Just the same, God’s love and grace belong to us and cannot be taken away from us even though we may be dead in sin.
This is Paul’s message today. The only way that we can fail to benefit from God’s love and grace is to not love God and to have no faith in God. That will cause us to not live according to His Will. Otherwise, all we have to do is ask God for His grace and with His love, it will be given to us. It’s that simple.
For God So Loved the World
Gospel Commentary: John 3:14-21
In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus who was one of the few Pharisees that listened to Jesus. The biggest problem with the Pharisees was their self-righteous pride. But Nicodemus put his pride behind him. In fact, Nicodemus stood up for Jesus after He was arrested and then assisted in the burial of Jesus and he is a canonized saint. His feast day is August 31st which is also the feast day for St. Joseph of Arimathea who went to Pilot for Jesus’ body and provided the tomb for Jesus’ burial.
Jesus said to Nicodemus: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Here Jesus proclaimed that the raising of the serpent on the pole by Moses in Numbers 21 was a precursor to His own cross. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that it was predestined for Him to be crucified for man’s salvation. As a Pharisee and a scholar of Scripture, Nicodemus must have immediately understood exactly what Jesus meant. He had to know that Jesus was taking the sins of man to the cross just as the sins of the Israelites went to the pole with the serpent.
Why did Jesus confide in Nicodemus this way, mentioning the serpent on the pole? Why did He not confide in the disciples? Jesus did tell the disciples on numerous occasions that the Son of Man would die and be raised on the third day. Even later at the Last Supper, Jesus told them. But they did not get it until after Jesus was arrested in the garden and then they all fled except for John. Sometimes, like the disciples, we hear the Word but do not truly listen. Sometimes we do listen to the Word but fail to embrace it. Jesus knew that Nicodemus would listen, immediately understand what was being said and embrace it. My point is that Nicodemus, the Pharisee, is one of many people who prove that Jesus will reach out to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen to Him and follow Him.
Nicodemus knew who Christ was. He knew that the one who the Jews were waiting for, with all of the glamour and ritz expected of a great king was not the Messiah at all. Instead, the Messiah was a Savior. Not just any savior but the Savior who would sacrifice Himself for the salvation of man to the glory of God the Father. Nicodemus also understood that salvation meant the fulfillment of the promise to a new life in the Kingdom of heaven.
Nicodemus knew and understood what John would write in this Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John also tells us that God did not send the Son to condemn but to save the world through the life of His Son. There is no greater love and this is why the sight of a crucifix should bring us joy for which we should be grateful beyond mention. Amen.