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God's Word on Sunday: Reflecting on past paves way for renewal

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  • March 7, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 14 (Year B) 2 Chronicles 36:14-17a, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

There is a pattern that is often repeated in the narratives of the Old Testament. The people of God fall into sin that is marked by idolatry, corruption and injustice. God sends prophets to warn them and turn their hearts back to the Lord. The warnings are usually ignored and then followed by disaster for the nation, usually at the hands of an oppressor.

But the story does not end there — eventually the people are healed and forgiven and are able to make a fresh beginning. This pattern is repeated in nations and societies today, as well as in the lives of individuals. God never abandons us, but there are times when we have to learn lessons the hard way. Negative behaviour and thought patterns must be wiped clean so that purification and renewal can take place.

In 1 and 2 Chronicles, the various disasters that befell Israel were tied to evil actions on the part of the kings, religious leadership and the people. The work ends with a brief description of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 B.C., followed by the exile in Babylon. Blame is laid before all, especially for their contempt towards the many prophets that had been sent to warn them.

The work ends on a note of hope: In 539 B.C., Cyrus the Persian conquered the Babylonians and soon after decreed that the Israelites could return to their land. The exile had prompted many of the captive people to reflect on their history and the causes for the disaster. They would return and try to reconstruct a way of life and worship that was only a dim memory for many of them.

But most of all, this was the period when the Old Testament as we know it was written. There was great hope that the re-interpretation of their history and recommitment to the Law would prevent them from making the same mistakes again. Unfortunately, it was not to be and the pattern continued.

People, institutions and nations always need to reflect fearlessly and honestly on their personal and collective histories. This reflection will rejoice in things done right, but not shrink from recognizing sinful actions and patterns of behaviour.

This is partly what is occurring now with the recognition of the portion of our heritage that is tainted with racism, mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and injustices towards minorities and vulnerable people. We can hope and pray that this will bring about a renewal for all concerned.

Ephesians reminds us that we have been renewed and transformed in Christ. Jesus died to revivify and transform us morally and spiritually. He was raised from the dead so that God could continue to grace and bless us through the centuries as humanity struggles to find the way back to God. The graces given to us by God are gifts, not something we earn or merit. The only proper response on our part should be gratitude and eagerness to share these blessings with others and to remain faithful.

It seems odd to portray Jesus as a serpent, but in the ancient world serpents were often viewed as symbols of wisdom and healing. The evangelist reached back into Israel’s history and repurposed the story of the bronze serpent that Moses raised on a pole to heal those bitten by venomous serpents (Numbers 21:6-9).

Raised high on the cross, Jesus would be the new source of healing and wisdom. All fixing their gaze on Him would live, for in John’s Gospel Jesus was the source of life to all who believe.

Neither the bronze serpent nor the image of the crucified Christ was magic. Both stand as a perpetual reminder to turn our hearts and minds heavenward. We turn from materiality and worldly ways to the treasures of Heaven.

Why would anyone hesitate to believe after such a promise? Jesus knew the answer: fear. Many prefer to find shelter in the shadows. Moving towards the light strips us of false security and illusions. The truth is too much for some.

We cannot lie to ourselves or others in the presence of perfect love, for it unmasks what we really are. That is the painful part, but the Lord also shows us what we can become and offers us healing and transformation.

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