Gospel reading: John 3: 14-21.
Vs.14 Jesus said to Nicodemus: “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
Vs.15 so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Vs.16 Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.
Vs.17 For God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.
Vs.18 No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
Vs.19 On these grounds is sentence pronounced; that though the light has come into the world men have shown that they prefer darkness to light because their deeds were evil.
Vs.20 And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed;
Vs.21 but the man who lives in the truth comes out into the light so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God
Historical Situation: 4th Sunday of Lent Year B : John 3: 14-21
This abstract Gospel passage contains a number of wisdom statements and general truths that were born out of Jesus’ own experience and reflection. The “Lectio approach” invites us to remember experiences in our own lives that enable us to recognise the truths in these statements – we discover their truth in a personal way that enables us to say “I know from my experience that this is true”. There is progression in the statements with one leading to another and for the purposes of Lectio we can meditate on each verse separately and feel free to stay with one verse and enter deeply into it.
Where did this take place? This took place in Jerusalem where Jesus had made his way for the celebration of the Feast of Passover – the most important Jewish feast celebrating God’s liberating work in their lives.
When did this take place? This happened shortly after the dramatic and subversive action of cleansing of the Temple. Now he backs up his action with extraordinary clarity and conviction about his identity and mission.
We know from the wider context of this passage that this conversation it took place at night.
Who was there? Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish Ruling Council. He was drawn towards Jesus and wanted to learn more about him. Fear of being discovered by other Pharisees made him approach Jesus under cover of darkness. A dialogue took place between Jesus and Nicodemus but by verse 14 it has become a monologue – Nicodemus no longer contributes.
The reference to Moses in verse 14 concerns the period of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 21). Many were bitten by highly venomous snakes which they believed was a punishment from God. Under God’s instruction Moses fashioned a serpent bronze metal. Then Moses lifted it up and when those who had been bitten by snakes looked at it they were healed. They looked at what was once a source of death (serpent) and now it was a source of healing.
What happened? V14: “son of man lifted up”- Jesus was “lifted up” in crucifixion but also in victory at the same time. The death of Jesus was also his exaltation. He was lifted up in suffering. He was humiliated, exposed, the object of scorn and derision but in that same lifting up he was victorious. It did not crush nor destroy him, he lived it in love, dignity, inner strength, humility, mercy and compassion and so the cross has become a source of life.
V15: “eternal life”. Eternal life means a deeper and fuller life where there is security and contentment. It is a process that begins now and continues beyond our physical death.
V16: “God loved the world so much”- The preciousness of his “only son” recalls the story of Abraham and Isaac when Abraham was asked to offer his only son in sacrifice. God’s love and indeed all true love means the willingness to give up that which is most precious to us so that others might be saved – “may not be lost” – many people are lost: feel they are of no value, no purpose in life, useless, rejects. His saving love gives life. If you believe in love you will never be lost.
V17: “not to condemn …the world might be saved” Jesus’ life and death revealed the heart of God. He sent his son, not to condemn but to save. True love seeks to heal and to save and to bless. It does not seek to condemn and destroy. Jesus does not condemn, he offers the possibility of salvation – for eternal life(A/A). He came to save from attitudes and actions that harm or do damage to personal and societal life.
V18: “refused to believe” – belief in love, as revealed in Jesus, is crucial for life. We have a choice – choose salvation by being open to the transforming love of God as revealed in Jesus or to close oneself off from it. If we’ve never known, or trusted love, we are condemned – to loneliness, fear, emptiness. People can condemn themselves to an existence without love.
V19: “on these grounds is sentence pronounced” – Light is not aggressive, it just shines! When we see it we can choose either to enter into goodness or choose to remain in the dark. If the dark is all we have known it is a very difficult journey into the light. We can feel threatened by it. “The only valid condemnation is the one which comes from within oneself”.
V20: this is a wisdom statement about sin in our lives – the darkness of injustice, falsehood or corruption. When we do wrong we hate the light, we avoid it. We resist the light through cover ups, lies and deceit.
V21: “into the light” – this is the opposite of V20. When we live in the light, God lives in us and we can recognise with humility that we reflect the light of God.
Through this Lenten passage the church seeks to help us to come out “into the light”. The discourse that started with Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night ends with Jesus revealing himself as “the light” that would expel all darkness.
Guidelines for Meditation.
When have we learned that “law of life”: that those who live their suffering in love: can offer a very powerful source of healing and hope to others “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Can we remember experiences that have taught us the meaning of true love: namely, to give up that which is most precious to us – “he gave his only Son”- so that others might find life, “eternal life” – a deeper and fuller life, contentment, fulfillment and security?
Can we remember people in our lives – parents, teachers, friends etc., who came to us at a moment of failure or weakness with that life-saving attitude “not wanting to condemn .. but so that through them we might be saved”?
Can we remember experiences that have taught us that it wasn’t so much in criticising or threatening others that we succeeded in getting through to them, but above all, by the example of our own lives, being true to ourselves, to our values and principles, “letting our light come into their world?”
Can we remember an experience of living in the dark and “hating the light and avoiding it” – one lie or deception leading to another and becoming more estranged from ourselves and God.
Can we remember experiences of “coming out into the light” and discovering the truth that we were more at home with ourselves and with God.