Year B: Fourth Sunday of Lent
The Gospel: John 3: 14-21
The conversation recorded in today’s Gospel comes early on in John’s Gospel. We cannot know at what point in Jesus’ ministry this actually occurred, but the fact that John includes it so early shows that the rest of his Gospel is to be read in the light of what he says today.
When he speaks of Moses lifting up a serpent in the desert, Jesus is referring to an episode during the Exodus when people were being bitten by deadly poisonous snakes. Many died - but those who looked the bronze snake that Moses lifted up survived. It can be hard to see how this is so different from the people making their own god of a golden calf - save that the bronze serpent was made according to God’s instruction and the calf at the people’s!
It may even be that the action of Moses found its fulfilment in Jesus. Jesus must have guessed very early on what was the likely outcome of his ministry - and, of course, the Gospel-writer who had himself stood at the foot of the cross was in no doubt - about what lay ahead. To a culture so opposed to “graven images”, the episode with the serpent must have seemed hard to understand. Put in the context of the death of Jesus, it may have found its fulfilment - its meaning.
Humanity is, in effect, struck down by sin. We can’t escape it. Those bitten by snakes couldn’t avoid that either - but, by looking upon the brass snake on a staff, they were cured of the effects of the bite. We are stricken by sin - and what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel is that he himself becomes the “snake on a staff” - he himself becomes our sin crucified. We can look upon someone who is prepared to be the worst in us in order to bring out the best in us...
It is proof - if proof were needed - of the one of the other significant phrases in the Gospel “God so loved the world...”
So often, we think of God looking at the world and seeing the sin and condemning it. Today’s Gospel reminds us that God’s motivation was never condemnation - but the desire to heal and save his people.
Jesus is the
light of the world and we are called to live in his light. It is
frightening because we know that it will expose things that we
might prefer to remain hidden. But, he invites us to look at the
cross and see that he has taken all our darkness upon himself -
and in so doing, healed us
What does it mean for me?