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Fourth Sunday of Lent
 “Laudato Si’ Journey – Sunday Gospel”


Sunday, March 10
Jn 3:14-21


The Lenten journey in the footsteps of the Word brings us to the fourth Sunday, laetare, the halfway mark. The gospel presented to us today is somewhat a continuation of last Sunday’s gospel, albeit with a skip in the text. In Jerusalem, after the confrontation with the Jews, the issue of faith arises as does the skepticism of Jesus who “knows the heart of man.” Here we find Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, in the dimming twilight of his life, searching for Jesus.

It’s like a return to the question, Jesus’ first words in John’s gospel, “What are you looking for?” in the dark. Where do we look for the temple of God? In the preceding  verse of the text we read in the liturgy, Jesus had told Nicodemus, “You must be born from above,” but the teacher of Israel had struggled to understand and so Jesus, on several occasions, elaborates on the meaning of his statement. Today we hear a monologue from Jesus. There is no dialogue, no action—there is only an in-depth explanation. There is almost no need for reflection or commentary today; it may be enough to look at our lives in the light of Jesus’ words.

How often do each of us really live in life? When we are born, our birth is registered as an actual fact and from the materialistic point of view the only thing certain at birth is that sooner or later we must die. Life, then, is really lived only when we adhere to the very purpose for which we were created by God. Until the purpose is achieved, we do not “hit the mark,” we proceed by degrees of fulfillment, and consequently by degrees of dissatisfaction. This, after all, is sin, ἁμαρτία, missing the target. Only when we love fully, as suggested in the Garden of Eden, do each of us truly live. Every day it is as if we are given the chance to be “born from above.” Loving is the only way to say thank you to love.

Jesus is the quintessential example of what it means to be born again. In fact, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” almost sounds like an indication of glory, of honor so that being lifted up can be read as an achievement. However, to say to be lifted up “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert” changes the whole perspective so that we understand that it also speaks of the cross, of humiliation. That is the place of glory, the place of birth. Paradoxically, where one dies is the only place where one can really live without any pretense. It is a life without an expiration date, and so the theme of faith in the temple returns,“ so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”.

Our unhealthy relationships are the κόσμον; the “world” in John’s Gospel has a negative meaning. Nevertheless, “God […] so loved the world,” this is the depth of our belief, of our faith. God creates us and loves us immensely despite our frailties, our imperfections and our flaws. He inhabits them and fills them with love. He gives us everything— even His only son. This is not a theory or an abstract idea. Think about how throughout history, how many vocations, how much suffering of men and women have been consoled by these life giving words. Words that  inspire us to be born again.

Jesus came precisely to take away sin. The distorted image of God blinded by wrath toward us and the image of the condemning judge who shortly before had used the scourge to destroy this ideal man-made temple, instead reveals to us the face of the Father. He reveals to us a face of one in love. How much more beautiful would our lives be if, from today on, we began to live with the knowledge that we are loved!

How many times, at work, at school, among friends, have we felt motivated when we felt looked upon with esteem and affection. How much easier it seems to us. Think of how life-changing it can be to feel loved by the one who created us! God is not there to condemn us, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,” the word κόσμον, the “world,” our imperfect being, returns three times. God wants “that the world might be saved through him.” How difficult it is to destroy this distorted image of God.

When read in this light, it is clear how we ourselves, and not God, are those who bring judgment. In fact, “whoever does not believe stands condemned already,” the action has already taken place, living away from God’s love is in itself a condemnation. How much unhappiness do we experience when we deny ourselves acts of love, how good do we feel after making a gratuitous gesture of affection? How good is it to make a person happy? Therein lies the place of judgment.

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world,” it is understood that we are not the judges, but the judgment is that the light has come to illuminate our imperfections, our sin, our continuously missing the mark. It sounds strange “but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” In fact, the original text says just ἠγάπησαν, it speaks of love of darkness, it becomes an incomprehensible love, the ideal ground for lies which in turn uses human beings’ best weapon—love, that for which it was designed by God—to direct it the wrong way. How much creativity has been used in doing evil throughout  human history!

The monologue ends without a reply from Nicodemus; we do not actually know whether or not this man of the law understood the darkness of his existence in relation to Jesus’ words of life. In John’s text, Nicodemus is almost contrasted with John the Baptist; the man of the law is contrasted with the prophet. As a result, we will see a different reaction to both Jesus’ words and actions. It is up to us to pause, contemplate this grace and these words, and choose whether to be killed by the light or reborn.

As St. Francis of Assisi invites us, in the paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer: “Oh most holy our Father: our creator, redeemer, consoler and savior. Who art in heaven: in angels and saints, enlightening them to knowledge, because you, Lord, are light; inflaming them with love, because you, Lord, are love; placing your abode in them, and filling them with bliss, because you, Lord, are the highest, eternal good, from which all good comes and without which there is no good” (FF 266-267). 

We hope you have a lovely Sunday as we journey toward the Lord’s Easter, accompanied by His word! 

Laudato si’!