03.14.2021 Fourth Sunday of Lent

“He sent his only Son”

Lectio


John 2: 13-25


14“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.21But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God”.


Meditatio

Context

For many, and probably for some of us too, this is a favourite Biblical text. Saint John masterfully explains in a few short words the motivation that lay behind the mystery of redemption, from its origin to its end.


Already in Chapter One, Saint John gives us a clear example of his ability to summarize the theological foundations of his entire Gospel in just a few verses.


After this, Saint John describes the Wedding at Cana followed by the encounter of Jesus with Nicodemus “at night”.


To better understand the context of this passage, we should read the whole dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus became an icon for people who were captivated by the person of Jesus, who became Christian sympathizers and looked forward to becoming members of the Early Church.


Introduction

Jesus had already explained to Nicodemus that a man needs “to be born again from above” in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. By asking a question that demonstrates a certain disbelief, Nicodemus wants to know from Jesus how this can be true.


What follows is a beautiful description of a conversion journey of a person who meets Christ and comes to believe in Him:

a) There is a first encounter that provokes admiration, curiosity and perhaps surprise;

b) Then follows the decision to discover more about the person of Jesus, but without taking too much of a risk. This is symbolized by Nicodemus meeting Jesus at night, although Jesus did not have a problem with this.

c) The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus describes the progressive unveiling of the divine mysteries, always starting from human experience. Jesus speaks of the history of Israel and Nicodemus, as a good Jew, has no difficulty in following his train of thought while Jesus gradually moves into more and more spiritual matters;

d) Finally, to fully accept Jesus, Nicodemus needs to make a clear option for Him. He needs to demonstrate his commitment in broad daylight. This will be the definitive sign that he has become a follower of Christ, a member of the Church.


Moses and the Serpent

The episode of the healing of the People of Israel in the wilderness was a sign of God’s redemption. The people murmured, God punished them, they repented and God gave them a sign of salvation: the bronze serpent[1].

We know that the Hebrews were forbidden to make an image of God. Adoring any image was considered an abomination under Jewish Law. However, the People of Israel turned the bronze serpent from being a symbol of the mercy of God into an idol[2]. They forgot it was the power of God who healed the Children of Israel and not the serpent.


As the Serpent was raised up

Jesus uses this passage from the Old Testament as a catechesis to illustrate how salvation from God will be realized in his death and resurrection. In the New Testament the verb to lift up refers to the double ascent of Jesus to the Cross and also to the Glory of the Father as He ascended into Heaven[3]. One could not happen without the other. Jesus explains that the only possible way for Him to reach the Glory of the Father is through the Cross. The same will hold true for the disciples as it did for Jesus Himself: Everyone needs to take up their own cross every day and follow Jesus. Without the Cross, there is no crown.


The Mystery of the Love of God

Only Jesus could have so clearly and concisely explained the Love of God in such a way:

1. God takes the initiative to save the world;

2. God does this by offering the most precious gift He could for humanity: his only begotten Son;

3. God decides to send Jesus, not to condemn, but to rescue humanity from the grasp of sin and perdition. The mainspring of God’s being is love: “God yearns over his children and woos them into love”[4].

4. God does this not just for a privileged group of people but for “the whole world”; not just for the person who loves God but also for the one who never thinks of Him. Saint Augustine put it in these words: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love”.


A Word about Condemnation

Having affirmed the universality of salvation, there is a strange twist in the words of Jesus. If God had done so much, and salvation was a gratuitous act initiated and accomplished by Him, the argument about punishment seems to be completely out of place. It is as if a bucket of cold water is poured on the listener.


However, a correct understanding of judgement clarifies the role of our responsibility without undermining or diminishing God’s perfect love for us.


The Gospel of Matthew in Chapter 25 tells of a final judgment that will result in the salvation or the condemnation of souls. The Gospel of John adds a new dimension to this by insisting that judgment takes place on an everyday basis:


1. One does not need to wait until the end of time to make an option of faith: every day presents a thousand opportunities to act in a Christian way;

2. Consequently, we can now experience, at least partially, the glory of God, as in a mirror [5];

3. It is by the very act of believing in Jesus that we experience salvation from God. Likewise, it is in the act of refusing to believe that we experience the darkness of a world without God.

This does not mean that there will be no judgement at the Second Coming of Christ; it means rather that the final judgement is but a confirmation of the option of faith taken during one’s life on earth.

4. We should remember that in Biblical terms “believing” is not just an intellectual assent to a series of “dogmatic truths” but rather an act of trust and the surrender of the will as a child rests in its mothers’ arms[6].



Oratio


You came to give honour to the least, those forgotten,

overlooked and misjudged.

You came to give first place to the last,

those left behind, misunderstood and undervalued.

You came to give a warm welcome to the lost,

those who are orphaned, abandoned and destitute.

Help us to be your ears to listen to their cries.

Help us to be your voice speaking out love and acceptance.

Help us to be your feet walking beside those in need.

Help us to be your hands to clothe, feed and shelter them.

You came for the least, the lost and last of this world.

Lord, hear our prayer. Amen.



Psalm 131


“O Lord, my heart is not proud

nor haughty my eyes.

I have not gone after things too great

nor marvels beyond me.

Truly I have set my soul

in silence and peace.

As a child has rest in its mother’s arms,

even so my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord

Both now and for ever”.



Contemplatio


By Pope Francis:


“The words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus summarise a theme that lies at the centre of the Christian message: even when the situation seems desperate, God intervenes, offering us salvation and joy.


God does not remain apart from us, but enters the history of humankind; he “meddles” in our life; He enters, in order to animate it with his grace and save it.


When we have the courage to recognize ourselves for what we are -and this takes courage! – we realise we are people called to take our weaknesses and our limitations into account.


So it may happen that we are gripped by anguish, by anxiety about the future, by fear of illness and death. It is good to know our limitations and our weaknesses.


We must be aware of them, not in order to despair, but to offer them to the Lord [an Act of faith, trust and surrender].


He helps us on the path of healing; He takes us by the hand and never abandons us, never! God is always with us”.

[1] Numbers 21: 4-9 [2] 2 Kings 18: 3-4: “Hezekiah … did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan”. [3] Acts 2: 33: “Being therefore exalted at[a] the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear”. Acts 5: 31: “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins”. Philippians 2: 9: “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name”. [4] BARCLAY, William, “The Daily Study Bible. The Gospel of John Vol 1”, The Saint Andrew Press, 1975, p. 138. [5] 2 Corinthians 3: 18: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”. [6] Psalm 131: 2: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me”.


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