Reading for Fourth Sunday of Lent
Peace be with you!
Every new beginning starts with a struggle, even if you are excited. Going off to college requires you to learn discipline and to create good study habits. Starting a serious relationship makes you evaluate your habits, including your ability to compromise and to work with your partner. These examples are usually met with excitement. However, some new beginnings are just plain scary and require finding and redefining yourself as an individual. Getting a divorce or breaking up with a long-time significant other causes you to question everything in your life and requires you to do a lot of soul searching. Losing a loved one to cancer creates an empty place in your heart. Both of these examples leave you wondering where life is taking you. It takes all of your energy to perform the simplest tasks, such as changing bank accounts and simple social exchanges. You feel lost and incomplete.
God has led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, yet they are still wandering in the wilderness for what seems like an eternity. The Israelites have nothing exciting to eat or drink—just manna and water—in the wilderness. If they knew there would be such monotonous food and drink for forty years before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites might have thought twice about leaving Egypt. Although the Pharaoh made them work as slaves and do hard labor, the Israelites always had plenty of food and drink (or at least that’s how they remembered it). They could eat and drink anything they wanted—especially leeks and onions! But—in the wilderness?—all the Israelites have is manna and water. What were they thinking?
When the Israelites complain about only having manna and water, God becomes angry and sends poisonous snakes to bite them. As a result, many of the Israelites die from the bites. Although this seems cruel, when that first generation dies, it does move the Israelites closer to the Promised Land. However, Moses pleads with God not to kill off the first generation all at one time (Numbers 14:13-19). Moses eloquently says in Numbers 14:19, “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sins of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now” (NIV). God is responsive to Moses’s intercession. God tells Moses to make the image of a poisonous snake on a rod and to have anyone bitten by a snake look at it. By this act of obedient faith, the sick person would be healed from the snakebite.
Despite his anger, God provides a way for the Israelites to be healed—and tries to have a personal relationship with them. God wants the Israelites to start a new life in the Promised Land by living as his chosen people, people who are in a relationship with him.
When Jesus enters the world, the Israelites (now called Jews) have had great political influence in the Roman Empire and have their religious center in Jerusalem. The Jews have done well to stand out as God’s people, but there is also corruption among the chief priests and scribes who do not always do things God’s way and have interpreted the Torah though their own eyes instead of God’s. Jesus comes to bring change once again to the identity to God’s people. Jesus’s message is not new, though it challenges the chief priests’ and the scribes’ ways of thinking. The change of interrupting the Torah calls out the sins of the Jewish people. No longer can the Jews justify the exclusion of Gentiles and Samaritans, because God includes everyone. Jesus shares God’s love with all the people, not just the Jews, in the world, because God wants to be in a relationship with all people.
“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. 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.” (John 3:16-17 NRSV).
God sends Jesus into the world to save everyone from their sins and to give them eternal life. How is this possible? God witnessed how impossible it was for the Israelites to keep his laws and commandments as long as Satan has power in the world. God expresses his love for us by sending his only Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for our sins. Jesus is crucified, dies, and rises again to overcome the power of death. With God the Father, Jesus Christ makes the impossible possible by taking away Satan’s power of death through his resurrection.
Through Jesus Christ, you are able to have a relationship with God the Father. Jesus made the ultimate price by dying on the cross for our sins. The chief priests and the scribes have difficulty accepting Jesus’s teachings on God’s forgiveness, grace, and love for all people, not just the Jews. Jesus spreads God’s message of inclusion throughout the world. Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles are all included in God’s family.
Taking the first step to changing a situation is the most difficult. However, the good news is God takes the first step in repairing your relationship with him by sending Jesus to die for your sins. Nothing else has changed. His love lasts forever. Will you take the next step?
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for leading the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Help us to understand the depth of your love for us. Lead us to welcome everyone who will believe in the good news. Lead us to extend your forgiveness, grace, and love to others. Thank you for paying the ultimate price for our sins through Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Amen.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the behavior covenant by commenting on it.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
- How have you experienced God’s love?
- How do you help to create inclusive faith communities?