(If your parish is using the readings from year A, please click here for reflection.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus is speaking to a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee. He studies scripture and knows well what God teaches. He finds Jesus very interesting and wants to know more about him. He chooses to come to visit Jesus at night. We have to wonder why he visits Jesus at nighttime.
While they are speaking together, Jesus says,
“And just as Moses 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.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus repeats the words, "may have eternal life." This tells us that they are important.
We know that Jesus has eternal life. Why? We could say, because he is God, but we might be missing something else that is important.
Jesus also repeats the words, "lifted up." We know that Jesus is lifted up in two ways, right? His body is lifted up on the cross. Jesus is so good, he gives so much, yet it seems that all the sin in the world is too much for him. It seems like the darkness is stronger than the light. All the bad choices, all the sin, all the darkness add up to his death. He dies on the cross.
But we know Jesus is lifted up in another way. On the third day, God lifts up Jesus to new life. God fills Jesus with the Risen life. God gives Jesus eternal life. In the resurrection of Jesus, we see the truth that the Light is actually stronger than the darkness.
Maybe these two moments of lifting up are joined together by more than words. Maybe Jesus' death and resurrection are really one event with two moments. Through the cross to eternal life.
Through the cross? Does God want all of us to die on a cross? No. But God does want to fill us with eternal life. Jesus says so, twice. God so loves the world--it is not enough that Jesus alone has eternal life. Then how?
The other words Jesus repeats are, "believes in him." Those who believe in him may have eternal life. What can Jesus mean by "believe in him"?
If I say to you, "do you believe in me?", I would not mean, "do you think I exist?" I am not asking you if you think I am simply part of your imagination. What would I mean? I want to know if you trust in me, if you know that I will do what I promise.
When Jesus tells Nicodemus--the man who comes to him in the darkness--that all who believe in him may have eternal life, this is what he is talking about.
Trust that light is stronger than darkness.
Trust that life will conquer death.
Trust that our sins are not too much for Jesus.
Know that Jesus will do what he promises.
Our parents bring us to be baptized because they trust that Jesus will do what he promises. They know that light is stronger than darkness. In the waters of baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternal life.
We show that we know that our sins are not too much for Jesus when we go to the sacrament of Reconciliation. We speak our sins out loud, so they cannot hide inside. We bring our sin to the Light. And the Holy Spirit removes our sin, making room for even more life of the Risen Jesus to fill us. Eternal life, because we believe in him.