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Fourth Sunday of Lent - Year B - Mar 15, 2015

Gospel JN 3:14-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.


Reflecting & Living God’s Words

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Year B - Mar 15, 2015
(JN 3:14-21)



(2 Chron 36:14-17, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)

I haven’t seen this recently, but when a baseball player would hit a home run a fan in the area where the ball landed would hold up a sign reading "John 3:16." Baseball fans watching the game on television were being directed to their bibles to, what must be, the most famous text in the New Testament, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life." Those who held up those signs were presuming a lot: that viewers would know what "John 3:16" referred to and that people who had a bible at home, would know how to find that quote.

We are in the midst of Lent, but our Scriptures are already looking ahead to Holy Week, especially Good Friday, when the "Son of Man" will be "lifted up." The reference is to the Book of Numbers (21:4-9). When the Israelites grumbled against Moses in the desert they were punished by bites from poisonous snakes. To help them God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole and "lift it up." Anyone bitten by a snake needed to look at it to be healed. That healing snake on a pole prefigured Christ and became a symbol of salvation. As Jesus says today, "The Son Of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." John uses "seeing" as a symbol for faith. So, to "see," or "look" on Jesus is to have faith in him and to "have eternal life." Note: The reference to eternal life is in the present tense – for the believer it begins now.

Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus who came to him at night (3:1ff). Maybe he wanted time with Jesus in a quiet atmosphere. Or, maybe he is a symbol of the world in darkness. Nicodemus seems to have accepted the light offered to him because later in the gospel he will speak on Jesus’ behalf (7:50) and will purchase spices for Jesus’ burial (19:39).

In today’s passage the evangelist John has broken the flow of his gospel to make a proclamation of the good news, a summary of his gospel. This section is filled with themes which anticipate the rest of the gospel: faith and judgment; Jesus, the revealer sent by God; light and darkness; those who do evil deeds and those who do good. John is announcing that God is making a revelation to the whole world, everyone, not just to particular individuals,. or a privileged few. God is concerned about all people and anyone who "lives the truth" and "comes to the light," is offered eternal life.

The passage reflects the experience of John’s community. Not everyone responded to God’s grace and accepted the offer God made in Jesus. This is suggested by references like, "people preferred darkness to light." In this the times were a lot like our own. People continue to choose darkness over light and practice evil deeds, "people preferred darkness to light because their works were evil." This would have caused discouragement in the early Christian community, just as similar discouraging events cause pessimism and discouragement in our church today.

But the passage ends on an optimistic note. Just as Jesus is the light to the world and his life a revelation of God to all, so too, each Christian who has "come to the light" reveals God to the world. People prefer the darkness because it hides their evil deeds. Believers, on the other hand, are light bearers whose deeds bear witness to God.

John has a tendency to use words and phrases that have double meanings. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will be "lifted up," that those who "believe in him may have eternal life." The term "lifted up" would refer to his death on the cross. It would also mean his resurrection from the dead and his being raised to glory at God’s right hand. So, those who look to Jesus upon the cross are not only healed of sin, but receive the same life Jesus now has – eternal life.

John provides us with a verse that has been bandied about on placards in sports stadiums and on bumper stickers of cars. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life." Believers repeat this phrase not as a slogan, but as a word of truth and assurance.

When we have sinned, or realize our deeds have not reflected God’s light to the world but have copied the world’s darkness, this verse is both a prayer and an assurance for us. It is a prayer of confidence in God’s love and assurance that we can be forgiven, not for any merit of our own, but because we can look upon the One who was raised up on the cross and so we can come out of the darkness of sin to the light of Christ.

Nicodemus has come to Jesus at night. In the instruction Jesus gave him we are reminded of what God has done for us. Despite the fact that so many choose deeds of darkness, God’s love for an undeserving world is without limits. God doesn’t just love the good people of the world, or the chosen over the rest. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is for all the world. So, because of God’s love revealed in Christ we cannot look upon anyone as unlovable, for they have been embraced by Christ’s outstretched arms on the cross. Even those who openly reject him, or are preoccupied by the things of this world, are still loved by God.

In the desert the Israelites turned their back on God and suffered the consequences. Still, God loved them and offered them healing if they looked upon the serpent Moses raised up on the pole. We don’t just look at a crucifix and are saved. Looking, in biblical language, means more than seeing something with our eyes. It implies seeing with eyes of faith. What else do we see with those same eyes of faith? Because of Christ and the light he brings into our darkness, we can now see the way God sees: we see the unlovable and sinners with love; we see hope in situations that others call hopeless; we see Christ in the outsider and neglected.

We also see eternal life in seeming-ordinary rituals: the pouring of water, the breaking of bread, a cup of wine, an anointing with oil and a word of forgiveness. We can see because Christ has been lifted up and now a light has shone into our otherwise dark world.

The cross has revealed God to us, not as a distant divine observer, but as one who has shared our joy, pain and our death. God has joined us in our lowest moments to raise us up to life. Jesus, on the cross and then resurrected to God’s side, is our proof positive. He has been "raised up" and now we look upon him for "eternal life" – which has already begun for us.

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP