4th Sunday of Lent
2 Chronicles 36:14–17, 19–23; Ephesians 2:4–10; John 3:14–21

Lifeline
Jesus is the believer’s lifeline in the hazardous journey from earth to heaven.

One job early Christian preachers had was to explain to prospective Jewish converts how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.

One way they did this was to show how key Old Testament persons and events pointed to key New Testament persons and events.

For example, they showed how Abraham’s son, Isaac, pointed to Jesus.

Isaac was an only son, as Jesus was.
Isaac was deeply loved, as Jesus was.
Isaac was given for sacrifice, as Jesus was.
Isaac was to be offered on a hill, as Jesus was.
Isaac carried the sacrifice wood, as Jesus did.

Paul makes similar comparisons between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

For example,
in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul compares Adam and Jesus. He writes:

“ ‘The first man, Adam, was created a living being’;
but the last Adam [Jesus] is the life-giving Spirit. . . .
“The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth;
the second Adam [Jesus] came from heaven.

“Those who belong to the earth are like the one who was made of earth; those who are of heaven are like the one who came from heaven.

“Just as we wear the likeness of the man made of earth,
so we will wear the likeness of the Man from heaven.”
1 Corinthians 15:45–49

In today’s gospel, Jesus draws yet another parallel between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He says:

“As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert,
in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

The Old Testament event Jesus has in mind is the one described in the Book of Numbers. It’s where the Israelites are complaining bitterly to God and to Moses about the troubles they’re having in the desert.

Following their complaint, snakes appear and attack the people. When this happens, the people cry out to Moses:

“ ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Now pray to the LORD to take these snakes away.’
So Moses prayed for the people.

“Then the LORD told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and be healed.
“So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole.
Anyone who had been bitten would look at the bronze snake
and be healed. Numbers 21:7–9

(The medical profession chose the image of the snake coiled about a pole as the symbol for its healing profession.)

Jesus parallels this Old Testament event to his crucifixion on Calvary. He explains that whoever looks upon him, with faith,
will be healed, spiritually, just as the Israelites were healed when they looked upon the coiled snake.

John follows the reference to Jesus’ crucifixion with these words in verse 16:

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

And verse 17 reads:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.”

These two verses, in the third chapter of John’s Gospel,
have been called a summary of the Bible. Listen to them again:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior.”

A number of years ago, these two verses, John 3:16 and John 3:17, took on extra-special meaning for many Bible readers. you may recall the episode. It involved our astronaut program.

Space engineers were designing space suits for the command module pilot and the lunar module pilot.

A part of the design of each space suit was an umbilical cord,
consisting of a long flexible tubing. The purpose of the umbilical cord was to supply oxygen to the astronauts when they “walked” in space or passed from one module to another.

The suit receptacle into which the command pilot’s cord fit
was called J 3:16. The suit receptacle into which the lunar pilot’s cord fit was called J 3:17.

Designer Frank Denton said he named the two suit receptacles after the two gospel passages: John 3:16 and John 3:17.

His reasoning for doing so went like this:

Just as J 3:16 and J 3:17 supply the astronauts with what they need to survive in their journey from one module to another, so John 3:16 and J 3:17 supply us with what we need to survive in our journey from earth to heaven.

And so today’s gospel is a rich one.

First,
it contains a beautiful summary of the Bible.


Second,
it contains a beautiful illustration of how the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together.

Finally,
it illustrates how Jesus is our lifeline as we pass from earth to heaven, just as the umbilical cord is the astronauts’ lifeline
as they pass from one space capsule to another. In other words, just as the umbilical cord supplies the astronauts with life-giving oxygen, so Jesus supplies us with life-giving race.

Let’s close by recalling these words of Paul in today’s second reading. They make a fitting climax to what we have been saying. Paul tells us:

“It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. . . . For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, . . . God has made us what we are, . . .”
Ephesians 2:5–6, 8–10

Series II
4th Sunday of Lent
1 Samuel 16:1, 6–7, 10–13; Ephesians 5:8–14; John 9:1–41*

Step by Step
Our friendship with Jesus grows and develops step by step.

There’s a delightful story about a nine-year-old farm boy who was terribly afraid of the dark.

One night his father told him to go out to the barn
and feed the horses. The boy turned pale and began to tremble.

With that, his father stepped onto the porch with the boy,
lit a lantern, and held it up. Then he said to his son, “How far can you see?’’

The boy replied, “I can see halfway to the barn.’’
The father gave the lantern to his son and said,
“Carry this halfway to the barn.’’

When the boy reached the halfway point, the father called out, “How far can you see now?’’

The boy held up the lantern and shouted,
“I can see the barn and the barn door.’’ The father called out, “Walk to the barn door.’’

When the boy shouted back that he had reached the barn door, the father called out,
“Now open the door and tell me what you see.’’

The boy opened the door and shouted back,
“I can see inside the barn. I can see the horses!’’
“Good!’’ replied his father. “Now feed them!’’

That night the boy lost his fear of the dark.
More importantly, he took a giant step forward into adulthood. He learned that some things in life cannot be done all at once. They have to be done step by step.

That night the boy lost his fear of the dark.
More importantly, he took a giant step forward into adulthood. He learned that some things in life cannot be done all at once. They have to be done step by step.

And when the boy reached the halfway point and held up the lantern again, he couldn’t see the horses inside the barn.
He could see only the barn. But it was enough to give him the courage to walk to the barn door.

Only when he got to the door could he open it, see the horses, and feed them.

That story of the farm boy is a beautiful illustration of what happens in today’s gospel.

The main point of today’s gospel isn’t the physical healing of the blind man. It isn’t the miracle that made it possible for the blind man to look at Jesus and see him for the first time.

The main point of today’s gospel is the spiritual healing of the blind man. It’s the miracle that made it possible for the blind man to look at Jesus and believe in him for the first time.
Let’s look more closely at this spiritual miracle and see how it took place.

The first thing we notice about this miracle is that it doesn’t take place all at once. It takes place gradually. It takes place step by step.

The man’s first response to Jesus, after being healed by him, is to regard him as just another man. Thus when people ask the blind man about his cure, he replies:

“The man called Jesus . . . rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.” John 9:11

And so the blind man’s first perception of Jesus is that he is just another man like himself—a remarkable man, but just another man.

The blind man’s second perception of Jesus comes when the Pharisees quiz him, saying, “You say he cured you of your blindness—well, what do you say about him?”

“He is a prophet,” the man answered. John 9:17

And so in his second perception of Jesus, the blind man takes a step forward. The more he thinks about what Jesus did,
the more convinced he becomes that Jesus is not just another man. He is a prophet.

The man’s final perception of Jesus comes later that day, when he meets Jesus again:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The man answered, “Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!”

Jesus said to him, “You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now.”

“I believe, Lord!” the man said, and knelt down before Jesus. John 9:35–38

And so the man’s final perception of Jesus takes a final giant step forward. He perceives Jesus to be more than a man or a prophet. He is the Lord.

And so in retrospect, we see that the blind man’s faith in Jesus did not take place all at once. It took place gradually, step by step.

This brings us to the practical application of the story of the blind man to our lives.

Like the blind man, we too were called by Jesus to wash, not in the waters of Siloam, but in the waters of baptism.

Like the blind man, after we washed in the waters of baptism, we saw Jesus for the first time

through the eyes of faith. And like the blind man,
our friendship with Jesus began to grow from that day forward.

As we matured as persons, so did our friendship with Jesus. And we soon discovered something important: Friendship with Jesus is an ongoing journey. It’s something that never ends. It’s something that we must continue to move forward in, step by step. If it doesn’t go forward, it begins to die, just as any other friendship does.

And this brings us to what Lent is all about.

Lent is a time when Jesus reminds us that our friendship with him is a journey, not a destination. It’s something we must always go forward in, step by step.

It’s a time when Jesus invites us to take a big step forward on that journey. It’s a time when Jesus invites us to deepen our friendship with him.

This is the practical message contained in the season of Lent.
This is the practical message contained in the story of the blind man. This is the practical message contained in the story of the farm boy.

Let’s close with a prayer:

Lord, like the blind man in the Gospel, help us see that friendship with you is a journey. It must always go forward, step by step. Keep us from faltering along the way.

And like the nine-year-old boy in the story, help us overcome our fear of the dark, which sometimes blinds us on our faith journey.
Give us the courage to take one step at a time, always trusting
that your love will be guiding us every step of the way.

Series III
4th Sunday of Lent
2 Chronicles 36:14–16, 19–23; Ephesians 2:4–10; John 3:14–21

Eternal Life
We are made for something more.

The Son of man must be lifted up, so that everyone
who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:15

One Monday night the Lehrer Report concluded its news coverage by doing a closing tribute to the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz, who had just died.

In the course of the tribute, reference was made to his book
The Labyrinth of Solitude, which is something of a Spanish classic. A passage from the book reads:

The New Yorker, the Parisian, and the Londoner never use the word “death” for it would burn his lips.

Rather, the book went on, they use words like deceased or passed away.


The Mexican, however, chases after death: hugs it, mocks
it, courts it, sleeps with it; it is one of his favorite playthings and most lasting loves.

The Mexicans believe profoundly in Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “Everyone who believes in me will not die but have eternal life.”

For them, death is not the end of life, but merely a change in life.

Years ago Peter Berger wrote a best-selling book entitled A Rumor of Angels.

In the book he speaks about “signals of transcendence.”
A signal of transcendence is something in this life that points to something beyond this life.

One of these signals of transcendence is the hunger of the human heart for something more than this world is able to offer.

For example, we all experience love, but the love that we experience—beautiful as it is—does not satisfy us completely.

It leaves us hungering for something more.
It does not satisfy the hunger for infinite love that we find in our heart.
Take another example. We all experience happiness in this world. But this happiness—beautiful as it is—does not satisfy us either.

It leaves us hungering for something more.
It does not satisfy the hunger for infinite happiness that lies in our heart.

This unsatisfied desire for infinite love and infinite happiness,
says Peter Berger, is a “signal of transcendence.”

It is something in this world that points to something beyond it. The British theologian C. S. Lewis put it this way:

If I find in myself a desire that no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Nor is this all wishful thinking on the part of Octavio Paz, Peter Berger, and C. S. Lewis.

When Wernher von Braun died, Time magazine called him the “twentieth-century Columbus.”

More than any other scientist on earth, von Braun deserves credit for putting us on the moon.

Sometime before von Braun died, he wrote:

Many people seem to think that science has somehow
made “religious ideas” untimely or old-fashioned. But I think science has a real surprise for the skeptics.

Science, for instance, tells us that nothing in nature, not even the tiniest particle, can disappear without a trace. Nature does not know extinction. All it knows is transformation.

Now, if God applied this fundamental principle to the most minute and insignificant parts of his universe, doesn’t it make sense to assume that he applied it also to the human soul?

I think it does. And everything science has taught me, and continues to teach me, strengthens my belief in the continuity of our spiritual existence after death. Quoted in the Reader’s Digest (June 1960)

And so what the heart has always taught us, and what Jesus taught, modern science is also now teaching. We were made for something more. We were made for eternal life.
This raises an all-important question. If God’s plan is for us to live forever, what kind of an impact should the reality of eternal life have on our daily lives right now?

Saint Paul answered that question this way in his Letter to the Colossians. In his unvarnished, blunt style, he writes:

Put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed. . . .

At one time you yourselves used to live according to such desires. . . .But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings.
No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips.

Do not lie to one another, for you have put off the old self
with its habits and have put on the new self. . . .

Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father. Colossians 3:5, 7–10, 17

This is the practical impact that the reality of love, life, and happiness ought to have on our lives right now.

We ought to strive to live as Jesus lived, love as Jesus loved, pray as Jesus prayed, and forgive as Jesus forgave—so as to attain the eternal life Jesus promised to those who believe.

This is the good news of today’s Gospel reading.
This is what we celebrate in today’s liturgy:

By his death and resurrection, Jesus changed the dark door of death into a shining gate of immortality.

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