The first reading, from the second book of Chronicles, paints the People of God as a recalcitrant child who never, ever learns. Time and again, the people stray from the true way (from the Law that we covered last week). Time and again, the Lord sends prophets to call the people back to his love.
Enough now. God is … ah … displeased.
Nebuchadnezzar descended on them like the wrath of God, smashed up the city, smashed down the Temple and carted anyone who survived the onslaught back home with him to Babylon. Today’s psalm, famously recalled by Boney M, is the lament of God’s people in exile.
The Chronicler doesn’t stop there, however. In Advent, we heard Isaiah’s cry of consolation. Here, we see the same event from a separate perspective. God has personally commanded the king of Persia to rebuild the Temple, and to let his people go home, so that they might, once again, worship God on his own soil.
Paul takes up the theme when he reminds us so forcefully that we have done nothing at all to earn the sacrifice of Christ. It was not because of any merit on the part of humankind that God sent his Son to redeem us. It was because we are God’s work of art. Let’s remember that the next time we are lacking in self-esteem.
In today’s reading from John’s Gospel, we meet Nicodemus . Here is a man, a leader of the Jews, desiring to know better the love of God. He has already been told that he must be born again in water and the Spirit (as we all are in baptism) in order to see the Kingdom of God, and now Jesus is telling him what will come to pass to accomplish the great work of salvation.
Jesus refers to the Exodus, where the People of God, having refused to enter the Promised Land, are stuck in the desert, beset by all kinds of maladies, including venomous snakes. Moses erects a snake on a staff and raises it up. Anyone who is bitten by a snake and looks up at this golden snake will be saved from death. Jesus explicitly likens himself to this icon, saying that he himself will be lifted up and, through this sacrifice, salvation will come into the world.
Calvinism gets a bit stuck with this passage. Jesus tells us that God sent him into the world not to condemn it, but so that the world might be saved, and that anyone who believes in Jesus’ mission of salvation is saved already.
As we head towards Holy Week, let us hold this image of Jesus lifted up for our salvation at the forefront of our minds so we are truly ready to join in the great liturgies of Easter.