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This Sunday's Programme

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4th Sunday Lent B

Sunday 10th March 2024

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Jn 3:14-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
This is how God loves the world: so much that God gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have life eternal.
For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but rather that through him the world might be saved.
The one who believes in him will not be condemned. The one who does not believe is condemned already because that one has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son.
This is the nature of condemnation: that the light has come into the world and people have preferred darkness to the light, because of their evil deeds
For every person who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come into it, lest the nature of his or her deeds is exposed…
But the one who lives truly, comes into the light, so that his or her deeds can be clearly seen and recognised that they have been done in God.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 136:1-6

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat,
we lamented,
when we remembered Zion.
On oleanders growing there,
we hung our harps.

There our captors told us:
“Sing, sing!”
Our tormentors demanded,
songs of joy from Zion.

How, how could we sing
the songs of God in foreign lands.
O Jerusalem if I forget you,
let my right hand forget how to move!

Let my tongue stick to my palate
if I fail to remember you,
if you, Jerusalem, are not my greatest joy!

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, your desire is to draw all people into your love. Give us your eyes of love that we may see our world with your vision. Give us lives of faith that we may see your love radiant in our world. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

This Sunday’s reading is taken from the chapter of John’s Gospel presenting the meeting of Jesus with Nicodemus, one of the Jewish leaders, one who is prepared to come and discuss with Jesus. The first half of this meeting, which we don’t read this Sunday, is a dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. Tellingly, for the symbolism given in our reading, he comes by night. In the second half, which is our Gospel reading, the audience widens to include any listeners, or readers. Nicodemus is a partial believer, confident about what he knows, but that very confidence locks him into his ideas on faith and doesn’t allow him to believe in the extraordinary revelation that is being offered him. What he already believes is the yardstick by which he judges the teaching of Jesus.

Against this background, the crucifixion and the role it will play is introduced subtly into the Gospel of John. Jesus has been trying to tell Nicodemus that what he offers is so much greater than the faith he now holds. Using the story of Moses and the serpents in the desert, John presents Jesus as the new Moses offering a life categorically greater than the life humans ordinarily know. But that life will only come about through the ‘awful’ circumstance of the crucifixion. Believing that will transform for the believer the nature of faith, belief, judgement, the world, light and indeed, all reality. Here we are introduced to John’s notion of ‘realized eschatology’ – that the abundant eternal life, offered in Jesus begins ‘here and now’ even in situations we deem negative.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Exposed! How we dread that…or do we? During the News of the World debacle, one reporter defended his actions saying decent people do not need a right to privacy, that only bad people want it to hide their evil actions. Of course, there was uproar but nowhere did I read a proper objection to his view. This Sunday’s Gospel states that those who do good are willing to have their actions exposed. The question is: To what? To the gaze of those devious reporters and their readers who wanted to know the private lives of other people, only to despise and ridicule them? In the light of such a gaze, none of us can come out looking good. In the light of the gaze of people looking for wrongdoing, even Jesus himself comes out condemned.

But what if it is the gaze of God’s gracious love? Into that light we can readily come because we know that love will put the best interpretation on our good actions, even if they appear shoddy or second rate to us. God’s love will even view our evil actions with mercy, waiting for us to face them and giving us the grace to change.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

‘Well that gave me a lift!’ A lift is often what is needed when we are in dark, difficult places in our lives, needed when we are suffering, grumpy, overcome by being our small-mindedness or small heartedness, or even when we are just overwhelmed by our own selves. So what is the lift Jesus offers us? The glory of the Cross. Oh! That’s not quite what we want. We want ‘out, elsewhere, to something easier’. Jesus offers ‘through and up’ with him. Jesus challenges us with the vision that what we see as negative, simply isn’t only that. There is more in the situation we judge negatively because God is within that situation. If we believe that there is more to our difficulties, suffering, grumpiness, pettiness, ordinary situations, we will see more – we will see the light. If we are not open to the possibility of more, we will not be able to see – to be lifted up by the grace of God. The trick is to be open. The challenge is to see greater possibilities within the situation as it is now. One way of doing this is trying to imagine how aspects of the situation could work for good in our lives. Another is to ask what is positive in the situation. Another is to ask Jesus how he sees the situation. What we are looking for are the cracks that let in the light of Grace.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– Matthias Stom  Christ and Nicodemus

– Henry Ossawa Tanner Jesus and Nicodemus

– Sebastian Bourdon’s painting of Moses and the Bronze Serpent.

– This Michelangelo’s presentation of Moses and the Bronze Serpent  in the Sistine Chapel.

The following works show the ability of some artists to weave together a number of images to reveal their theology of the Cross.

– Cornelis Engelbrechtsz’s triptych is such a rich visual study. The story of Moses and the Bronze serpent is on the right hand side. It is worthwhile to look closely at the complex use of images across the three sections.

– This extraordinary carved pulpit by Michiel Vervoort the Elder incorporates the stories of Adam and Eve in the garden, the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses and the Serpent, the Crucifixion.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

As you go through this week, mull on how God’s loving gaze would view your actions. As you understand yourself in that gaze of love, mull on how you could interpret other people’s actions in a gaze of love.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

A theme of this Sunday’s Gospel is belief. When we believe in another person, and that belief is accepted, it gives hope and the possibility of a richer life. When we believe in God, that gives us hope and a richer life.
When you are resting in the love of God, ponder on what hope and richness of life, believing in God gives you. How does it transform your attitudes, your actions, your relationships? Appreciate the richness that has been given to you.

Rest in the love of your God.