Fourth Sunday in Lent

When God Lets Us Go

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, till the wrath of God rose against His people, till there was no remedy.  II Chronicles 36:15


The account from the Book of Chronicles tells the story of the final events in the pre-exilic history of Judah, after which in 586 the nation would be taken captive into Babylon.   The history of Israel account in the concluding chapters of Chronicles is a particularly grizzly tale of national apostasy, idolatry, and the rebellion of the kings.  After good king Hezekiah came Manasseh, who built altars to the hosts of heaven, listened to sorcerers and wizards, and burned his sons as an offering in the valley of Hinom.  The story ends with the faithlessness of Zedekiah, who, refusing to hear the counsel of the prophet Jeremiah, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.   God “stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord.  The leading priests and people likewise were exceeding unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations, and they polluted the house of the Lord which He had hallowed in Jerusalem” (Chronicles 36:11-14). Even then because He had compassion for the people and for His dwelling place, He “sent persistently to them by His messengers . . . but they kept despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against His people.” So God sent Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Chaldeans, and Israel went into slavery in a far land.       

           As it happens we have Jeremiah’s account of his prophecy to Zedekiah:  “It is I who, by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.  Now I have given this land to Nebuchadnezzar” (Jeremiah 27). Nebuchadnezzar was a notorious tyrant, a worshiper of false gods, but, like every circumstance of history, an instrument of God’s providence.    In His omnipotence and omniscience God had used circumstance to punish and chastise; when those He loves despise His words, He may withdraw for a time the hand of His blessing and give them over to evil. 

          It is possible to decline God’s message, to walk away from His commandments, as did Zedekiah and Israel.  In the New Testament the rich young ruler did just that.   He wanted to enter the kingdom, but when Jesus told him to sell his goods and give the money to the poor, he walked away (Matthew 19:21).  When the philosophers on the Areopagus heard Paul’s preaching of the resurrection some believed but some mocked, and others suggested politely that such a weighty matter should wait for another day (Acts 1:32-34). Continue reading “Fourth Sunday in Lent”

Third Sunday in Lent

The Cross at the Heart of the World


Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.
Matthew 20:28


Christ had promised “Truly I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man shall sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel.”    This promise the mother of James and John knew, but she had one further request; that her sons should have first place in that new world, sitting on the right hand and the left hand of the throne of the Messiah.  

James and John stood  with their mother, for it was to them that Jesus said:  You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?   When they replied that they could Jesus acknowledged their future, for He knew both would die for His name, but He also warned that the privilege of sitting at His right and left was known only to the Father, which was consistent with Jesus’ repeated claim that He did not know the day or the hour.   

Jesus did not rebuke directly the brothers for their desire, or better, the desire of their mother, but the other ten grew indignant that the brothers had made such a request, perhaps because they had their own ambitions regarding the right order in the new world.    But then Jesus said in effect, This is not the question, for in fact authority in my kingdom is not the authority of place and power and security but the authority of sacrifice, self-giving, and adventure.   Greatness comes from the gift of self to others, not from lording it over one another as the Greeks do, but from taking the lowest place and seeking to serve best.           Continue reading “Third Sunday in Lent”