He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” ~ John 3:2
If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” ~ John 9:33
Look at that cross… What do you see? Some of us look at Jesus on the cross and immediately feel a sense of unworthiness. “Lord I’ll never be worthy of such a sacrifice.” Some of us look at the cross and see the suffering and estrangement that exists among our families and friends. And some of us look up at the cross and see the pain and suffering in the world and wonder, “Lord, when will this suffering be overcome.” But Jesus says in our Gospel, Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. What does this mean?
To answer this question, Jesus reminds Nicodemus of an Old Testament experience of the Jews. They were in the desert. They began to whine, complain, and even curse God. They even wished to go back into slavery rather than to be in the desert. Unfortunately, in their misery, poisonous snakes attacked their community. Many were bitten and many died. And yet, God heard their cries for help. He instructed Moses to put a snake on a pole and lift it up. Anyone who would look at that snake on the pole would be healed. And so it happened. But it wasn’t just a miracle, God was teaching them a lesson. That snake represented their sin. It represented that they had turned away from God, and even cursed him. In order for someone to look at that pole, they needed to acknowledge what had put them in this situation in the first place: their sin and infidelity to God. We cannot stop there. The pole also represented something else. It represented God’s unconditional love for them. As if God was saying to them: “though you departed from my ways, though you lost trust in me, though you even cursed me, I have not stopped loving you. Look and be healed.”
Friends of Jesus, look at the cross again and now what do you see? This weekend we are meant to see both our sins and God’s unconditional love for us. Our sins, our tendency to turn away from God, our lack of love for God, are all reasons why Jesus was crucified and raised on a pole, on a tree. And yet, it is in this very image that we too are reminded that God loves us unconditionally. But we are reminded of something more. Jesus, the one lifted up on the cross, is a sign of God’s love and desire to bring healing. Just as the seprent in the desert was a sign of God’s never failing love and healing for the Israelite people. This is not just a mere man that has died – This is Jesus, the son of God. Christ’s suffering is not meaningless – it proves God’s love for us. It proves God’s love for you and me.
When we look at the cross, it should have two effects. 1) we feel contrition for the role we played in Jesus’ death, and 2) we rejoice, because this is the sign of the Father’s love and the healing that Christ offers us.
For those who believe that they will never be worth God’s love – the sacrifice of Christ offers you healing and says, “God loves you more.”
For those who believe that there will never be reconciliation in their family’s – the cross of Jesus says, look here at me on the cross, yes there can!
For those who believe that divisions in our country are too strong and we will never be united, Jesus says, I stretched out my arms on the cross to bring us together.
Already but not yet. This weekend, we celebrate Laetare Sunday. The Church asks us to rejoice because the cross of Jesus Christ is opening act of our salvation! Jesus points us to his cross, but we must never forget that cross is not the final act. It leads and points to the resurrection. For now, we celebrate and rejoice because Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the sign of God’s unconditional and healing love. And we look forward with joyful anticipation, celebrating the final act of our salvation, the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Now friends, look and see the Christ, the sign that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that who ever believes in him will never die but have eternal life.
In Christ’s love and friendship,