Homily – Lent Sunday 4 – Year B

Fr Lino Moreira OSB

In his dialogue with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to see him during the night, Jesus spoke about the light of faith, and at one point he said: ‘As Moses has lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life’ (Jn 3:14-15). Jesus was referring to chapter 21 of the Book of Numbers, where fiery serpents are said to have been sent among the Israelites in the desert to punish them for speaking against God. Moses interceded for the people, and then God told him what he had to do to save them. So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole – reports the sacred author. – And if a serpent bit anyone, they would
look at the bronze serpent and live (Nm 21:9).

Nicodemus was very familiar with this story, and Jesus told him that the bronze serpent was an image of himself, and that whoever looked at him with faith would be rescued from the power of Satan and live forever. But what exactly did Jesus mean by saying that the Son of Man must be lifted up? As is often the case in Saint John’s gospel, the assertion has a double meaning. Jesus was not simply predicting that he would be crucified in Jerusalem, he was explaining that his death on the cross would be the moment of his exaltation, the occasion when – having accomplished the task entrusted to him by his Father – he would be glorified with the glory that was his from the beginning
(cf. Jn 17:4-5; 19:30).

Seen in this light, the crucifixion of Jesus was not a humiliation, but
rather a revelation to the world that the Son of Man was also the Son of God, and that the one into whose hands the Father had placed all things (cf. Jn 13:3) was enthroned on the cross as supreme king over the whole creation. That is why Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: ‘You are right in saying that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’ (Jn 18:37).

As king of all creation Jesus was commissioned by God the Father to
judge the world on his behalf. And again according to Saint John’s gospel, judgement is an on-going event, not just something that will take place at the end of time. As we have heard today, Jesus gives a verdict for the here and now when he says that whoever believes in him is not condemned (cf. Jn 3:18). And then he explains that a genuine believer is someone who does what is true (cf. 3:21) – an idiom which means the exact opposite of doing evil (cf. 3:20). So we should ask ourselves constantly, as we go about our daily life, whether we are doing what is true – that is to say, whether we are living by the
truth and our deeds are good. Conscious of the many times we have fallen short, we may be inclined to think that the standards set by Jesus are simply too high for an ordinary human being – a fact which seems to find confirmation in Saint Paul’s sobering words: I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want (Rm 7:19). However, perfection is our goal, not our point of departure. Jesus calls all God’s children, saints and sinners alike, to come to him with full confidence, so that through his divine power they may overcome the darkness of evil and experience the joy of a new life. Let us, then, never lose hope, mindful of what our Redeemer said to some Pharisees who were less sympathetic than Nicodemus: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (Jn 8:12).

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