Pathways through Lent

Weekday reflections from St. John’s in the season of Lent.

Thursday in the Third Week of Lent: March 7, 2024

The fourth Sunday in Lent, like the third Sunday of Advent, is the “rejoice” Sunday. Remember the pink candle in the Advent Wreath? For this Sunday, there have been in some parts of the church customs of coral vestments and even flowers (instead of the usual Lenten greens). It is the Sunday when we rejoice over the heart of the gospel: the raising of Lazarus (Year A), the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Year C), and this year: Jesus’ famous words to Nicodemus: “God so loved the world . . .”

What does all of this have to do with our focus on the Hebrew Scripture lesson? In each year, the lesson for Lent 4 focuses on how the Children of Israel move from the wilderness experience into the long-promised establishment of a kingdom: The anointing of David as King (Year A), the preparation for the conquest of Canaan under Joshua (Year C), and this year: That weird story in Numbers about Moses putting a bronze serpent on a pole. Those dying from poisonous bites were healed by looking up at this representation of what was killing them. The strange healing seems to be something like a vaccination, where a bit of the disease is used to inoculate against the truly dangerous version. In this case, focusing on the evil threat is related to being healed.

Jesus says in today’s gospel reading: When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Jesus means that he, like a shrewd robber, has come to overpower Satan and to steal this world back from him. It’s the meaning of all those “casting out demons” stories in Mark’s gospel. Or of this unusual portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up . . .” In some sense Jesus engages with evil, overcomes it, and becomes our deliverance. Rejoice!

Jack Reiffer
Pathways Editor

Links to the appointed readings for today:

The Serpent in the Wilderness: