4th Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Jesus’ mission is one of healing and restoration, leading to eternal life and salvation.


First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23

  • Notice the centrality of the Temple in this reading. The condemnation of the writer is reserved, first of all, for the Temple priesthood. The practices that they brought into Temple worship are said to have defiled the Temple, leading to its destruction and a ‘sabbath rest’ for the land. The reading concludes with the Temple being restored by the order of Cyrus. Why this focus on the Temple? What relevance does this have today?
  • The destruction of the Temple and the deportation to Babylon are spoken of here in relation to the words of the prophets; the writer wants to emphasise that these events were not a surprise for God but a working out of his bigger plan. How might these examples cause us to reflect on world events today?

Psalm: Psalm 136(137):1-6

  • This famous psalm recalls the experience of exile. Follow the poem’s logic from stanza to stanza, from weeping and setting aside music and joy to resisting oppressors to mourning over Jerusalem. What emotions emerge from this psalm?
  • Jerusalem and its Temple were central to the identity of the people of God in the Old Testament because it was the place where God dwelt and met his people. In the Church, the presence of God dwells within us by virtue of our baptism, and the presence of Christ dwells in the tabernacles of our churches. Do we prize these presences of God with us more than any other joys?

Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10

  • Look over this reading again and note the number of times that “grace” and “gift” are mentioned. What does this say about salvation?
  • In typical Pauline fashion, Paul weaves an epic constellation of ideas in very few words. He takes us from the Resurrection of Christ, in which we partake in salvation, to the restoration of the life intended for humanity from the beginning, before the Fall. How does this passage shape our understanding of what it means to be a Christian?

Gospel: John 3:14-21

  • Notice the discussion around the word condemnation in this gospel passage; what does this show us about our freedom of choice?
  • This passage contains what is generally considered the most well-known verse in the Bible – John 3:16. Why do you think that is?
  • Jesus compares the lifting up of the Son of Man on the cross to the lifting up of the bronze serpent in the desert; what does this show us about the cross?


The extraordinary conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus reveals so much. Let’s take it bit by bit.

First, Jesus tells us that he – the Son of Man – must be lifted up, just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert. It’s always worth paying attention to the little words in scripture, like the one that follows immediately here: “so”. Jesus gives us the reason why he must be crucified: “so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Here, then, Jesus gives us a clear reason for the crucifixion: so that you may have access to eternal life.

Jesus is emphatic on this point; in this context, he utters the famous words: ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.’

In the very next sentence, Jesus gives us what we might call a synonym for eternal life: salvation.

Jesus’ mission, then, is one of healing and restoration, leading to eternal life and salvation. He chose to compare his mission with the raising of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, a remedy for the poisonous bites of snakes that afflicted the people of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land. It’s a powerful image; we are, each one of us, stricken by the bite of a serpent, infected by the poison of sin. In the West, we tend to emphasise just one metaphor for sin: legality and justice. We conceptualise sin as something requiring forgiveness. The Bible, though, has a richer and fuller image for us; without denying the need for forgiveness at all, the scriptures also show us that sin is simultaneously a wound and an infection from which we need healing by the power of God through the Messiah lifted up on the tree.

As we’ve seen, the Bible holds multiple aspects of our sinful problem together. Having spoken of our need for healing, Jesus moves effortlessly into speaking the courtroom language we are perhaps more familiar with. He tells us that not choosing the medicine God offers in Christ has very real consequences. He tells us that “whoever refuses to believe is condemned already” – in other words, the sin infection is terminal by default.

These are tough words, but Jesus’ point is not that God wants to pronounce a terminal sentence on human beings; in fact, the message is entirely the opposite! God longs to heal and forgive, so much so that he offers his own Son to us in sacrificial love. God’s perspective towards us is like that of a doctor who has to deliver difficult news to a patient but longs to follow up that news with a treatment plan that is guaranteed to fix the problem entirely.

As Paul is at pains to emphasise in the reading from Ephesians, all of this is God’s gift to us in his crucified Son. The sentence has been pronounced yes. But pardon is available if we want it!

On hearing these words of Jesus today, our response should be to go deeper into that reality for ourselves and, just as urgently, to get this message out to as many people as possible. These readings today are fuel for the fire of evangelisation; let the Holy Spirit fan that into a flame in your life!


  • Love in the Christian tradition: Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI
  • ‘The heart of the gospel’: Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis