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Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B, March 15, 2015
Lectionary index # 32

If your community is initiating new members this season, you probably want to proclaim the Year A readings, preparing with these Lector's Notes. Check with your liturgy committee.
Twenty-second digests for the congregation: Raise the bar of your community's appreciation of the Scriptures. Arrange with your liturgy committee to have these brief historical introductions read to the assembly before you do each reading.

Best practice: let the presider say them from the chair. Let the lector turn toward the presider and listen.
Print this page, cut it at the blue lines, and give the introduction paragraphs to the person who will speak them.

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B, March 15, 2015
Before the first reading:

A historical writer gives a summary of Judah's fall from greatness, its exile in Babylon, and their causes. His hope for the people is that they'll return to worship in fidelity.
After the psalm, before the second reading:

The letter to the Ephesians was written by a Jewish Christian convert, to Gentile Christian converts. It asserts that God's plan was always to save all people. Like other writings of Saint Paul, this letter insists that salvation is God's free gift in Christ, not earned by good works.

Before the gospel acclamation:

Some early followers of Jesus were somewhat tentative, easily dissuaded from Christianity by any threat of persecution. Saint John's gospel aims to put the choice before them in very stark terms.

To pay for use of the words above, please subtract an equal number of optional words from other places in the liturgy (click here for some suggestions).

First reading, 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

Our Liturgical Setting: Today's gospel, John 3:14-21, contains, among other things, this lament: "The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light." Resonating with this in the first reading, we find "But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, and scoffed at his prophets, ..."

The Historical Situation: Scholars call the anonymous author of this book the Chronicler. He writes, well after the facts, of the period from 1030 BCE to 550 BCE, from the reign of Israel's first king, Saul, to the end of Judah's exile in Babylon. He knows that there will never again be a powerful Jewish state on the world stage, and the people cannot again attach their identity to an exalted nationalism. If they are to keep their identity, it has to be in religious terms alone, in allegiance to the God of their ancestors, and, as much as practically possible, by practice of the rituals of their predecessors, focused on a renewal of worship in the Jerusalem temple.

Today's reading begins, pivots and ends with references to that temple. (Further, 2 Chronicles ends with verse 36:23, but the very next book, Ezra (originally continuous with 1 & 2 Chronicles, and the book of Nehemiah), begins with Cyrus sending the exiles home and specifying "Let every [exile] who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, goods, and cattle, together with free-will offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem."

So taken as a whole, between these "bookends," the passage is about how the people's infidelities caused them to lose the temple and their homeland, and how God arranged, through the pagan king of Persia, no less, for them to "retrieve their lost sabbaths." It's a short, sad summary of a long period, with a hopeful ending. And it's told with a definite point-of-view, the conviction that right worship will restore the people.

Proclaiming It: So how shall you read this aloud to the congregation? For one thing, in view of the Chronicler's hope that restored worship will restore the people, emphasize the references to the temple. In the New American Bible translation used in most Catholic churches in the U.S.A., those are:

Do the first two paragraphs like a storyteller. That's what you are in this case. These paragraphs are a summary without much detail. Tell this part of the story like you're preparing your audience for a something startling. You're just laying the groundwork here. Slow down dramatically when you reach the summary statement, "All this was to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah ..."

Then recite the Cyrus paragraph differently. Make the people sit up and take notice. For God to use a pagan king this way is simply unheard of. It reveals something about the scope of God's power and plan that Judah just couldn't anticipate. These people had done everything in their power to disappoint God and annul their covenant. Yet God's desire to maintain and renew the covenant will not be thwarted, even if it means employing a pagan king. Let the astonishment be heard in your voice. Of course, for the Chronicler the point is Cyrus' conviction that God has "charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah."

Second Reading, Ephesians 2:4-10 [Jerusalem Bible translation]

The Theological Background: If you understand the first reading, you're over half way to understanding the second. Paul is saying that, on our own, we deserve nothing from God, but that God chose to love, save and give life to us in Christ anyway. And the "us" includes both Jewish and Gentile Christians, treated together in these sentences (and distinctly in other parts of the letter), for in their own ways both groups were alienated from God and saved only by God's grace.

Proclaiming It: The first sentence is quite a mouthful. Read it to yourself over and over, until you understand its complicated structure. With numerous extra clauses, it says God did three things for one purpose. The three things are:

And the purpose is to show the immeasurable riches of God's grace.

In proclaiming this you'll do well to make it sound like more separate sentences, each manageably shorter, than the punctuation in our text suggests.

In the second half, Paul contrasts what we can achieve spiritually on our own (nothing) and what God gives us as undeserved grace (everything). Notice the several ways Paul states this theme. In each of those statements, make the contrasts heard.

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Several other commentaries on these passages. All are thoughtful, all quite readable, from the scholarly to the popular.
Links may be incomplete more than a few weeks before the "due date."
Archived weekly column of the late Father Francis X. Cleary, S.J. (Log in using 0026437 and 63137.) From the site of the Saint Louis Review.

Lutheran pastor and college teacher Dan Nelson's notes for a study group
Dan covers Numbers 21:4-9 as first reading, the story Jesus refers to in today's gospel when he mentions "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, ..."

A column on the readings by Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., from America magazine.

Father Roger Karban of Belleville, Illinois, USA, writes a newspaper column about every Sunday's readings. Here are his essays for today's passages, from: courtesy of The Evangelist, official publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York, or of The Belleville Messenger, of the Diocese of Belleville.

Read all of Father Karban's recent columns here, at the site of FOSIL, the Faithful of Southern Illinois.

The Text This Week; links to homilies, art works, movies and other resources on the week's scripture themes Saint Louis University's excellent Sunday liturgy site.

(Caveat lector. As of January 28, 2015, Lector's Notes' author is speculating about the exact URL of SLU's offering, since it's not yet posted. If you get a 404 Not Found, try here).

The Lectionary selections in the frame at the left, if any, are there for your convenience. The publishers of the page in that frame have no connection, except for membership in the one Body of Christ, with the publisher of this page. Likewise the publishers of the pages on the links above.

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Last modified: January 29, 2015