Commentary for 4th Sunday of Lent Year B

First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14–16, 19–23

The Sunday readings in Lent have been showing us the high points of salvation history – God’s covenant with creation in the time of Noah; His promises to Abraham; the law He gave to Israel at Sinai. In today’s First Reading, we hear of the destruction of the kingdom established by God’s final Old Testament covenant – the covenant with David (see 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89:3).

Chapter 36 in ancient Jewish tradition is the last book in the Jewish Bible, which describes the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the return from exile under Ezra and Nehemiah in the Fifth Century B.C. and then these mysterious words about going up to the temple.

14 All the leading priests and the people also were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations; and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jerusalem.

15 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place; 16 but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.

We must read the “wrath of the Lord against his people” through the modality of God’s love. His anger is a passion to set things right. Sometimes drastic measures are the only solution, radical surgery, a tearing down and starting over. When the temple was destroyed, it was above all a theological issue. How else could the dwelling place of God be destroyed? No. Rather, it was construed as a purification. They stayed in Babylon for 70 years = a long and cleaning purification of Israel. An expression of divine love… How do we read calamities in our own lives? We all experience disaster. How do we read them? just dumb suffering? A sign that God has abandoned us, no! Read them as expressions of divine anger, a modality of God’s love. ~ Bishop Robert Barron

19 They burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

22 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: 23 “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.”

Story continues after 70 years… restoration. Babylonians were overrun by Persians, king Cyrus. Lord inspired Cyrus to allow Jews to return home & rebuild the temple. God used a foreign power to do his work.

These are the final words of the Jewish Canon of Scripture. And they end with the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple, but then also the restoration of the city of Jerusalem under the edict of King Cyrus of Persia around 587 BC. King Cyrus, the Persian King, acts as a kind of deliverer figure, telling the Israelites that they can go home and rebuild the temple of God. So we end of a great note of hope — That the prophecies of a new glorious temple would be brought to pass and that the people would once again be able to go up to Jerusalem in order to worship the Lord, in order to worship their God.

So I think that the reason that the Church picks this for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, for the lectionary, is because it kind of brings the story of salvation history from Abraham through the Exodus, like we saw last week, up to the time of the Babylonian exile and the return from exile under King Cyrus of Persia, which points us forward to the messianic age, right, to Christ who’s going to come as a Messiah and build a new temple. And not just a new temple, but he’s going to usher in a new creation and the so-called new Jerusalem. This new city of God which will, as we’ll see, be fulfilled in a special way in the Church. And that really gives us the cue or the clue to the responsorial psalm for the week. ~ Dr. Pitre


Psalm: Psalm 137:1–6

1By the rivers of Babylon—

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion.

2On the willows there

we hung up our harps.

3For there our captors

asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4How could we sing the Lord’s song

in a foreign land?

5If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand wither!

6Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem

above my highest joy.

The responsorial psalm for this Sunday is all about the Babylonian exile and how the Jewish people would sing a song while they were in Babylon that they would never ever forget Zion. They would never forget the city of Jerusalem that had been destroyed, and also expressed the hope that one day they would return. So it’s a beautiful psalm.

You can see the Church really preparing catechumens there to kind of hear the history of Israel, to live it out in their own lives, to kind of re-experience it so that when they come to the feast of Easter they can kind of experience the longing that the Jews themselves would’ve had for the coming of the Messiah, for the new Jerusalem, the new creation and the resurrection from the dead

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4–10

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

2nd Reading — Ephesians 2 — God who is rich in mercy. By grace you have been saved. Paul is practically falling over himself trying to sum up God’s love. Mercy love grace kindness. The lavishness of God’s love. The Father gave all He possibly could in the son. God who is Hesed gave his whole self. There is the gospel! ~ Bishop Robert Barron

Gospel: John 3:14–21

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying in its context, we must go back to Number 21:4-9. During their wanderings in the desert, the complain about the worthless food (the manna) and the Lord sent fiery serpents, people died, and they repent, and Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole, so that all who see it shall live. To understand this add story, lets go back to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve rejected heavenly food (fruit of tree of life) and broke God’s commandment and a serpent came into the garden that caused them to fall and brought death into the world. So in Numbers 21, Israel is recapitulating the fall of Adam and Eve within the context of their exile. The fiery serpents were actually seraphim, the burning ones, the highest angels. So 1st century Jews would have considered these fiery serpents to represent demonic forces who have come to bring death upon the Israelites. And so when Moses makes an image of a fiery serpent, of a bronze serpent, and lifted it up on a pole, in a sense he’s using the very instrument that brought death to the Israelites in order to save them from this diabolical attack that they have fallen under. So Jesus is making a unique typological connection with the Old Testament for Nicodemus insofar as he takes an image for the demonic to point towards the Cross, where Jesus will take the sin of humanity upon himself — take death, which is the principal enemy of the devil — so that we might be saved from the power of the very serpent, the devil, who brought sin and death upon humanity in the garden, and who also led the Israelites in the wilderness to abandon God and to suffer the punishment of death at the hands of the fiery serpents in the wilderness.

~ Dr. Brant Pitre

The lifting up of Jesus on the Cross is the powerful image we have here for Lent in which Christ triumphs over the devil and over death itself — lifted up on the Cross and lifted up in the Resurrection.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

In today’s Gospel, we get to hear the most famous verse in all of the Bible. John 3:16. This verse is so popular we see it on sporting signs, etc. This one verse is the entirety of the Gospel, the Bible, the whole history of salvation condensed into 1 verse. And the beauty of the verse is in it’s simplicity. That’s why it’s so attractive and popular. It’s so clear, so simple, so straightforward. Why do we complicate this verse? I complicate this verse… What about you, how do you complicate the Gospel?   ~ Dominic Albano, Dynamic Catholic

St. Thomas asked the question, well why exactly did God give us his only beloved Son? Why did Jesus have to go to the cross? Wasn’t there some other way he could’ve saved us?

And it’s interesting because St. Thomas says in the summa that God actually could have saved us in a number of different ways. In other words, he had the power to forgive us simply by declaring us forgiven if he would want to do that. But in his divine wisdom he chose to save us through the passion and death of Christ through the cross, precisely because the cross is the perfect sign of his love for us

St. Augustine says (De Trin. xiii.): There was no other more suitable way of healing our misery than by the Passion of Christ… In the first place, man knows thereby how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation; hence the Apostle says (Rom. 5:8): God commendeth His charity towards us; for when as yet we were sinners … Christ died for us… Fourthly, because man is all the more bound to refrain from sin, when he bears in mind that he has been redeemed by Christ’s blood, according to 1 Cor. 6:20: You are bought with a great price: glorify and bear God in your body… It was accordingly more fitting that we should be delivered by Christ’s Passion than simply by God’s good-will.(Summa Theologica 3.46.4).

Therefore, God not only showed us His goodwill but that he loves us with a divine love. That he loves us with a sacrificial love. That he loves us with a love so great that he’s willing to mount the wood of the cross, to be lifted up on the wood of the cross, to taste the suffering and the shame of this horrific death so that we might know that he loves us, that he loves us, and that he wants us to love him in return. So that would move our hearts to not just thank him for being forgiven, but to love him in return. And that’s really what I think the Church is doing on this Fourth Sunday of Lent. It’s trying to prepare us for the mystery of Christ’s passion, so that we might not only know that God loves us, but so that we might be moved to love him in return.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

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