The Gospel according to John (3:13-17)
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And 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.
Opening Prayer: Loving Lord, You never cease to call us to Yourself. May I be open to seeing You lifted up on the cross, and know that the price You paid was done out of love, even if it was just for me alone. Help me to share that love in some way with those who need it most whom You place in my path today. Amen.
The image of someone or something being “lifted up” is critical to the lesson of today’s Gospel on this, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In the first reading today from the Book of Numbers, those who complained against God and were suffering were told to look up at the bronze image of the serpent on a pole and they would be healed. And, they *were* healed.
Then, in the Gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that He (Jesus) would be lifted up in a similar way, and would effect a similar result, namely, the healing of God’s chosen people, if only they would believe in Him.
I’d like to ask us to think of that image of something being “lifted up”. It is important to note that the Israelites, in order to be healed, had to look *up* at the image of the bronze serpent. So, it stands to reason that if any of the Israelites did not deign to look up, they would not be healed. We can often get in that mode in our own lives nowadays, too. We may think that what we have done is so repugnant to our God that we don’t even dare raise our eyes to heaven to ask His forgiveness. We can recall the story of the tax collector praying as an example of this sort of posture.
But, the amazing thing is that God longs to forgive us. He doesn’t want us to live a life of pain and of being separated from Him. No. He wants us to walk as closely to Him as He does with each of us. But, lest we think that anything we do can possibly *earn* forgiveness, let us stop those thoughts right now. Nothing we do can *earn* forgiveness. It was a free gift, given us by Jesus’ sacrifice. It was all out of the love of the Father.
That brings us to the verse that is most well-known in the Bible to most: John 3:16. I find it is especially instructive to change the words just a bit when I read that familiar verse. In place of “the world”, I put my own name there. Try it yourself now: “For God so loved <your name>, that He gave His only Son, so that if <your name> would believe, <your name> would have eternal life.” It truly is that easy from God’s perspective. The love that God has for each of us is so total that God wants to make it so that we can be with Him forever in heaven.
The cross, while seen in Jesus’ time as an instrument of torture and utter humiliation, is in fact, a sign and symbol of that love. God sacrificed Jesus to bring us closer to Him. We, as Jesus’ followers in the world, are called to sacrifice in our own way so that others will know that they are loved, and especially that they are loved by the God who created them. Whenever we gaze on the cross, let us be reminded of the ultimate act of love and re-dedicate ourselves to sharing that love in our own, imperfect ways with those who are as beloved of God as we are. Let us start today!
Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, through Your suffering death for me, I came to recognize Your Father’s boundless love for me. Please help me to share that love with my family and with whomever You place before me. May I do what I can to bring Your love more fully into the world through my own actions.
Action for the Day: If you can, spend a few minutes before an image of the cross and give thanks to God for His love, demonstrated through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus the Lord.