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A Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Chapter 3: Verses 13-17)
“Jesus said to Nicodemus: 'No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of man; as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.”
This text has been taken from the Liturgy of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It should not surprise us that the passage chosen for this celebration forms part of the fourth Gospel, because, it is precisely this Gospel which presents the mystery of the cross of the Lord, as the exaltation.
The exaltation of Jesus is precisely in his descent to come to us, up to death, and the death on the Cross, on which he was lifted up like the serpent in the desert, which, “anybody… who looked at it would survive” (Nm 21,7-9; Zc 12,10). John reminds us in the scene of the death of Jesus of Christ being lifted up: “They will look to the one whom they have pierced” (Jn 19, 37). In the context of the fourth Gospel, to turn and look means, “to know”, “to understand”, “to see”.
The mystery of Cross reveals the great love which God has for us. He is the Son given to us, “so that anyone who believes in him will not be lost, but will have eternal life”, this Son whom we have rejected and crucified. But precisely in this rejection on our part, God has manifested himself to us his fidelity and his love which does not stop before the hardness of our heart. And even in spite of our rejection and our contempt he gives us salvation (cf. Acts 4, 27-28), remaining firm in fulfilling his plan of mercy. God, in fact, has not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him.
The faith of which our Lord speaks is not just intellectual acceptance of the truths He has taught: it involves recognizing Him as Son of God (cf. 1 John 5:1), sharing His very life (cf. John 1:12) and surrendering ourselves out of love and therefore becoming like Him (cf. John 10:27; 1 John 3:2). But this faith is a gift of God (cf. John 3:3, 5-8), and we should ask Him to strengthen it and increase it as the Apostles did: Lord "increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5). While faith is a supernatural, free gift, it is also a virtue, a good habit, which a person can practice and thereby develop: so the Christian, who already has the divine gift of faith, needs with the help of grace to make explicit acts of faith in order to make this virtue grow.
Embracing the Cross
But the reason why the Church gives us this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is not just so that we look at the Cross physically and ponder its meaning spiritually. It’s not so that we remain astonished at beholding the One we have pierced. When we truly confront the reality of the Cross, we cannot remain a detached bystander. On Good Friday, as we know, we all process up humbly without shoes, prostrate and venerate the Cross with a kiss. In order to truly venerate the Cross, however, we need to do more than just kiss it. We need to embrace it as a way of life. That is what Jesus clearly wants us to do and calls us to do. He never said to us, “I am taking up the Cross so that you don’t have to.” Rather he said, “If you wish to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, pick up your Cross every day, and follow me” and “whoever does not pick up the Cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
We’re here because we want to be the disciples of the Lord. We want to follow him all the way to heaven. But to do this, we need to follow him to Calvary; we need to walk the Way of the Cross. As St. Rose of Lima told us earlier, there is no other ladder to heaven but the ladder of the Cross. To be a disciple means to embrace the Cross. To embrace the way of the Cross means first to forsake the way of sin because we see what our sins have done.
We honor the cross not just because the Saviour died on it, but because the Son of God forgave all.
What helps me to forgive – gratitude in my own life. Grateful people can forgive more easily.
If God has forgiven me, I will want to give to someone else the liberation I have received, especially if that person has hurt me. Our daily prayer may also include forgiving the harms and hurts of the day.
The biggest challenge of Christianity is to forgive – people, nations, all sorts. The church is called to be the community of the forgiving and forgiven.
Finding our Hope in the Cross
The early Christians used to say and sing, “Ave, O Crux, Spes Unica!", “Hail, O Cross, our Only Hope”. The cross is our only hope in two ways. First, because without Christ’s sacrificial triumph on the Cross, we would have no hope of eternal salvation; and second, because unless we pick up our Cross every day to unite ourselves to God, we have no hope of salvation either. The Cross is the world’s greatest love story but we need to grasp that we are a central character in that romance.
The message of the love of the Cross that we receive and share, we are called to proclaim from the rooftops. It is the most important message we can preach because it is the summary and essence of the Gospel.
Sr. Gloria Walter (Warispura, Pakistan)
11 September, 2017