As usual, I would like to look at this passage from John’s Gospel, see what it says and what it might mean for us, and I see it talking about three things:
First, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, who comes to him secretly at night because he is scared of being seen publicly with such a troublemaker, and Jesus tells Nicodemus that just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so too the Son of Humanity must be lifted up.
What is that about? Jesus is referring to the ancient story of the Israelites, after Moses liberated them from slavery in Egypt under Pharoah, and how they wandered through the desert for forty years before arriving in the Promised Land. But after several decades in the desert, they became tired and bitter and disappointed and started to grumble and murmur and gossip and complain and said, “Where is God? What the heck are we doing way out here? There’s no promised land. This was a big mistake!” And they give up on God, start yelling at Moses and wish they were back in slavery in Egypt. And God says fine, if that’s what you want, and lets go of them and suddenly, all these poisonous snakes appear and they all get bitten and start dying and so they turn back to God and beg God to heal them. So God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent, hang it on a pole and anyone who looks at it will be healed, and the people who look at it are healed.
Today, the Gospel announces that the whole world has turned away from God. The whole world has been bitten by snakes, that we are filled with the poison of violence, disbelief and death and we are all dying, but if we look up the one who has been “lifted up,” the crucified Jesus and contemplate his nonviolent suffering love, and realize that he did not deserve to suffer and die like this, but that this is the way of God, and believe in his way of love and become people of nonviolent suffering love who give their lives for others, we will be healed, disarmed, redeemed, and saved. This is our hope.
Next, the Gospel says that “God so loved the world.” I have to confess that while I love people, and animals and creation, I do not love the world. I find the world to be perfectly horrible, that we are nonchalantly destroying the rain forests, building nuclear weapons, allowing children to starve to death, trying to make money, supporting corporate oil billionaires, and on Friday, we blew up 58 innocent women and children in the vegetable marketplace in downtown Baghdad, and we just say, “Well, that’s collateral damage, it’s justified, that’s the world, that’s life!” I can not stand this world of hate and violence, but that is not God’s attitude.
The Gospel says God so loved the world that he gave his son Jesus to the world, so that we would believe in him and his way of love and nonviolence, and not perish and die, but live and have the fullness of life; that God did not send Jesus to condemn us or the world, even though we all deserve condemnation, but so that the world might be transformed through our faith in his nonviolent, suffering love and truth, and we might be freed from sin and war and death, that if we turn to Jesus, and believe in him, and trust in his way of love, compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence, and peace, we will be saved and redeemed.
Finally, the Gospel says that the world rejects Jesus. According to the Gospel, God is the judge, we are the judged, God gives the judgment and the verdict, and we have been let off the hook through Jesus. But, John’s Gospel continues, the world thinks it is the judge. The world has issued its verdict. The world has rejected Jesus, the light of the world. The world prefers the darkness to the light. The world prefers to do evil rather than to do good. The world prefers war and death to the peace and life of Christ. The Gospel says that we live in darkness, that we are blind, that we prefer the darkness, but that nonetheless Jesus is coming into the world and turns on the lights, and he calls us to live in his light and his truth.
So according to the Gospel, part of us prefers the darkness, the blindness, the chaos of the world. Part of us resists Jesus and his light, and prefers selfishness, pride, apathy, gossip, violence, despair, depression, doubt, anger, resentment, hatred, and ingratitude. Part of us prefers the global darkness of the world, and supports war and killing Iraqis and does not care about human suffering or systemic injustice.
But part of us wants the light. Part of us wants to welcome the light of Christ, and believe in Jesus and look to his cross.
So as always, the scriptures says we have a choice: between light or darkness, truth or lies, love or hate, nonviolence or violence, peace or war, life or death. And the Gospel calls us to reject the darkness, lies, violence and evil ways in our hearts and in our world, and turn instead to the light of Jesus, the light of truth and love, and welcome the light of the world, welcome Jesus and his Gospel, and let Jesus shine a flashlight into the darkness of our hearts and turn his spotlight of truth on the world.
So at this Lenten Eucharist, we turn back to Jesus. We promise not to grumble and murmur and complain anymore like our ancestors in the desert. We welcome Jesus and his light. From now on, we are going to live according to the ethic of his cross, the way of nonviolent suffering love and love one another, show compassion to one another, forgive one another, and like him, stand with the poor of the world, love our enemies, speak the light of truth and peace. We will look to the cross, and let him to disarm us, redeem us and save us.