“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
Lent 4B: Night Time Talk about Day Time Truth
We are half way through Lent, but our Scriptures are looking ahead to Good Friday, when Jesus the “Son of Man” will be “lifted up.” The phrase 'lifted up' comes from 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 only to 'look' at it to be healed. That healing snake on a pole prefigured Jesus Christ and became a symbol of salvation. As Jesus says to Nicodemus in the gospel for this Sunday (John 3:14-21), “The Son Of Man must be 'lifted up', so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John uses "looking” as a symbol for faith. So, to “look” on Jesus is to have faith in him and to “have eternal life” (eternal life is in - the present tense - for the believer it begins now).
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Possibly, he wanted a quiet time with Jesus. Maybe because he did not want others to see him associate with Jesus or maybe he is a symbol of the world in darkness to the truth of who Jesus is. Nicodemus seems to have accepted the light offered to him because later in the gospel he will speak on behalf of Jesus and purchase spices for his burial. This great conversation is filled with faith and judgment. God is making a revelation to the whole world, that everyone, who “lives the truth” and “comes to the light,” will eternal life. The passage reflects the experience of the gospel writer’s community. Not everyone responded to God’s grace and accepted the offer God made in Jesus as “people preferred darkness to light.” John's time seems to be a lot like our own. This would have caused discouragement in the early Christian community, just as similar discouraging events cause pessimism and discouragement in the church today. However, Jesus is the light to the world and his life a revelation of God to all. We believers, are to be light bearers whose deeds bear witness to truth and God.
John has a tendency to use words and phrases that have double meanings. The term “lifted up” refers to his death on the cross. It also means 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 eternal life that Jesus has now. John also provides us with the famous verse, “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 the light of God, this verse offers prayerful assurance for us. It is a prayer of confidence in God’s love and assurance that we can be forgiven, not through any merit of ours, 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 and his love.
Our daily headline news affirms, that many choose deeds of darkness, yet, God’s love without limits is there for an undeserving world. God does not just love the good people of the world, or the chosen over the rest. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is for all the world. If this is true then we cannot look upon anyone as unlovable, for they have been embraced by Christ as he stretched out his arms on the cross. Even those who openly reject him, or are preoccupied by their own ego plans, are still loved by God. Like the Israelites in the desert who turned their back on God and suffered correction. God still loved them and offered them healing if they 'looked' upon the serpent Moses raised up on the pole. 'Looking' implies seeing with the eyes of faith. So with faith we look at an image of Christ on the cross to see the way God sees and loves. We can see the unlovable and sinners with love. We can see hope in situations that others call hopeless. We can see Christ in the stranger and the neglected. We can see eternal life in our sacramental rituals: the pouring of water (Baptism), the breaking of bread and shared cup of wine (Eucharist), an anointing with oil (Sacrament of the Sick) and a word of forgiveness (Sacrament of Reconciliation). We can see because Christ was been lifted up on the cross. The cross continues to reveal God to us, as one who shares our joy, pain and our death. God has joined us in our lowest moments of life to raise us up to newness of life. Jesus, has been “lifted up” and NOW we look upon him for “eternal life” which has already begun for us.