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4th Sunday of Lent (Ages 9-12): Time to Become

Updated: Mar 11

(If your parish is using the readings from year A, please click here for reflection.)


John 3.14-21


In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus speaks to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, a person who studies scripture and knows the law of God by heart. He finds Jesus very intriguing--both interesting and confusing. Is he from God? Or is he something dangerous that threatens his faith? Under the cover of darkness, Nicodemus visits Jesus.


While they are speaking together, Jesus says,

“And 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.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus knows exactly what Jesus is talking about when he mentions Moses. After God leads the people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses and the people of Israel wander for forty years in the wilderness. During this time, God forms them into God's chosen people. It takes a long time. Over and over the people complain and turn away from God. Over and over God leads them back. Here is the account that Jesus is referring to:


The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

The people are not grateful for freedom; they complain. They do not trust that God will provide food and water. (God is already providing food, but they are sick of it.) They turn their attention back to God when they realize that the source of their troubles are the serpents. Serpents are just snakes, part of creation, but to the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness, they seem to be almost evil, don't they? However, God transforms the serpent--the source of all their troubles, the symbol of evil--into something that brings life. The power that the serpents seem to have is diminished, and the strength of God prevails.


Why is Jesus referring to this story now? What does he know?


Ever-present to all the people living in Jerusalem, is the threat of the cross. The Romans have come and taken over the city and all of Israel. Soldiers patrol the streets. Anyone caught doing something wrong knows what is in store for them. They see crucifixions on a regular basis. The cross is a terrible symbol of violence and death, of the triumph of darkness over light, of the power of evil.


And Jesus knows that he will be lifted up onto the cross. It will seem that the cross will grow in strength as the combined weight of sin, violence, evil, and death overpower him.

Photo by Sylvain Brison on Unsplash

But Jesus also knows that God transforms the serpent on the pole into the source of life. He also knows that "lifted up" has two meanings. It can mean lifted up on the cross, but afterwards, lifted up to new eternal life. He also knows that God's strength prevails. The cross becomes the source of Eternal Life. And he knows why this is so:

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.

This is the good news. In Jesus' own words we hear God's love for us, and God's desire to bring us into eternal life. Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus brings us hope.


But we can also worry, because when Jesus says, "everyone who believes," we know that there are people who do not.

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.

We might worry about friends who do not go to church.

We might worry about older brothers and sisters who no longer practice the faith.

We might worry about a parent does not believe in God.

We might worry about God's chosen people, the Jews, who do not believe in the name of the only Son of God.


Is Jesus giving us worry?

Photo by Ben White

We have to remember the remainder of the story of the people of Israel. Once the people are saved from the serpents, do they follow God faithfully from there on end? Nope. Faithful, unfaithful; belief, unbelief; trust, doubt. God knows they need time. God allows the people of Israel to wander in the wilderness for forty years so that they have time to become the chosen people of God. By the end of their wandering, they believe in the name of the God who saves. (We remember, too, that the name Jesus means, "God saves.")


We also have to remember the remainder of the story of Nicodemus. He visits Jesus under the cover of darkness because he is uncertain about him; he wants to hide his interest in the dark. But Nicodemus must listen when Jesus says,

For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 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.

We know he listens to Jesus because he speaks up for him when the chief priests and Pharisees want to arrest Jesus. Later, after Jesus dies but before he rises to new life, Nicodemus tenderly prepares Jesus' body for burial. Even though he may be afraid of the chief priests, he is no longer a man who hides his deeds in the dark. He must have needed time to become a believer.


We can see that belief can take time. Faith can take time. Trust can take time. God, who can take a symbol of death and transform in into a powerful sign of Life, gives people time. Why?

“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.

We can pray for people who do not believe--we can lift them up in prayer--but we need to leave the worrying to God. It is God's work to transform death into life, not ours.


Our work can simply be to,

do what is true

and,

come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that [our] deeds have been done in God.

If our deeds are done in the light, if they are done in God, if they are clearly seen, what will that do? What will that do for those who do not yet believe?


Let's leave that with God who gives people time to become,

for God so loves the world.

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