“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” (John 3:14-15)
Jesus reminds his hearers of the odd way God saved Israelites who had been bitten by poisonous snakes in the desert. Moses made a serpent of bronze and those who were bitten looked at the image of what was threatening to kill them and were healed.
Now God will do an even odder thing. The one-and-only Messiah promised for ages as God’s answer to the evils of the world, the one who would usher in the new age to come, was going to be betrayed by his own closest friends, condemned by his people, the ones chosen to be the light of the world, and killed in a humiliating and cruel way, and this was how God would usher in the new age. From now on, anyone who wanted to be healed of any evil, any affliction, any suffering had to look at the image of Jesus crucified on the cross. We are asked to look at what we have done to the Son of God and there find hope and salvation. Here, if anywhere, we would expect to find condemnation, to find that God had finally had it with humanity. But God had another surprise up the sleeve. The crucifixion of the Messiah would be God’s ultimate victory.
It’s a crazy way to run a world, isn’t it? We will never figure God out; let’s be grateful for that. Whenever we or anyone we know is feeling really hopeless, defeated, lost, all we have to do is to look at the image of Jesus hanging on the cross long enough to find God not only offering us forgiveness, but also showing us compassion, because in Jesus God experienced the bitter gall of failure and defeat. But for God, as for us, failure and defeat never have the last word.
William A. Barry, S.J., IVC reflector.
Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Presently he resides at Campion Center where he is co-director of a nine month Jesuit Tertianship Program and gives retreats and spiritual direction. He is the author or co-author of 15 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, With An Everlasting Love, and Contemplatives in Action with Fr. Robert Doherty. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.