4TH SUNDAY OF LENT - B
When you look at the crucifix, what do you see?
The dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus brought us back to that moment in the history of Israel when God sent fiery serpents to the Israelites in the desert as a punishment for all their complaints and rebellion. After they repented Moses was commanded by God to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole; those who were bitten were saved by looking at the serpent. Jesus in the same manner would also be lifted up so that anyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
“To be lifted up” means the crucifixion of Jesus. But for St. John, “to be lifted up” had a double meaning, namely Jesus’ exaltation on the cross and his exaltation in glory at the same time. It is the continuous movement of ascent by Jesus towards his Father, namely 1) his crucifixion 2) his resurrection and 3) his ascension. For St. John these movements comprise one single event: the glorification of Jesus! This is the reason why the crucifix has always been the icon of our redemption. The death of Jesus was his glorification!
Just as the serpents represented the rebellious attitude of the Israelites, at this time sin is the expression of our rebellious hearts. Just as the serpents poisoned and killed the Israelites, sin is the present-day poison that continues to plague humanity. Just as the bronze serpent was the antidote for the venom by just looking at it, Jesus is the only antidote for our sin, if only we believe in him. But the cure is useless unless the poisoned victim accepts it. Jesus’s death on the cross has no meaning to those who do not believe and refuse redemption.
When we look at the crucifix, we simply don’t see the corpse of Jesus hanging lifelessly on wood but the highest drama of Trinitarian kenotic love: the Father who emptied himself of everything by abandoning his Son; the Son who, despite of being abandoned by his Father, gave up everything back to the Father in gratitude; the Holy Spirit who was the link in the eternal self-giving of the Father and the Son.
In this trinitarian drama, we are not mere spectators but rather as active participants in the challenge of self-emptying love. To love is to empty one's self to the beloved no matter what it costs because this emptiness is the only way to the fullness of life! That is how we know God who is Love!