This reading anticipates the feast of the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. It revisits the events of Good Friday, spread over two weeks.
The gospel reading today comes at the end of a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, who in his failure to understand Jesus represents Israel. Given his background he should have understood.
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This is a short reading consisting of a mere 5 verses. But they present a dense piece of theological reflection. They run from verse 13 to verse 17. Allow me to summarize John’s argument:
Verse 13: No one has ascended to heaven, but the Son of God comes from above.
Verse 14: The Cross is the highpoint. It is a moment of exaltation. In his revealing presence Jesus makes God known on the Cross. Therefore it is not the lowest moment in Jesus’ earthly journey.
Verse 15: Eternal life flows from belief.
Verse 16: Everyone who believes in God may not perish. This is the God who loves the world and whom Jesus makes known.
Verse 17: In this way the world is saved. No where does it say that God despised the world.
This is John’s Theology of the Cross.
We would reduce this theology to simplicity by emphasizing anthropology which relies on the presence of God in the human person of Jesus. A one sided emphasis on the theological depth of this passage would emerge from an exclusive Christology relying on the divinity of Jesus the Christ.
In verse 14 we have reference to Moses who raised the snake in the desert in order that “anyone who was bitten by a serpent and looked at the bronze serpent survived.” (Num. 21:9). Take note that Moses ascended Mount Sinai and then came down from God to the world. Thus the love of God is communicated to us.
Fr Frank Moloney has written a truly inspiring book dealing with all of this, entitled: “Love in the Gospel of John.” It is well worth a read. On the passage in question he says this: “The tight logic of 3: 13-17 states that only Jesus makes the heavenly known. He does that through his exaltation on the Cross (vv. 13-14), and whoever believes in him will have eternal life (v.15). God’s love for the world has made this possible by generating the sending of the Son, his mission (v.16).” So, we have in earthly things and heavenly things not only relational aspects of love – between the Father and the Son, God and the world, Jesus and disciples, disciples and one another – but also a description of what love looks like, especially in the crucifixion.
Fr. Brian Kelty