Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)
by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.
If you've been to a football game in the past ten years or so, or seen one on television, you've probably seen people holding up
signs whenever the TV camera is on them. The signs say "John 3:16". That's
a verse from today's Gospel: "God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son, that all who
believe in Him might have Eternal Life". On the whole, I have to say there are worse things people could be
putting on the signs they lift up.
So what are you lifting up this Lent? We usually think of this season as a time to work on our
interior lives: Prayer and Fasting and Almsgiving are
things we don't usually do in public. People might get the wrong idea. They might think we're flaunting our Piety.
They might even think we're "religious". Heavens! Can't have that! Our
cultural perspective on religion is that it's something almost completely privatized. It's something we do in private, or on
Sundays. Even during Lent, our religious observance is something most people
don't talk about much. It's embarrassing.
Still, the Scriptures call us to something more than that. With the possible exception of places
where persecution is a serious problem, there are no secret Christians. Our
faith is something that by its very nature we have to share. If we believe this
Good News -- that God is rich in Mercy, bringing us
Forgiveness and Healing -- and we know there are hurting
people around us who need that message -- we have to tell people about it. If the people around you don't know you're a
Catholic, maybe it's time to ask why. I'm not suggesting you need to put a bumper sticker on your car that
says Jesus Saves, or that you ought to be holding up a sign at a football game. By
people ought to be able to tell by the way you live your life -- by the choices you make, and by the way you treat people -- that there is
something Good and loving that motivates you.
Indeed, I think that living a life of Integrity, free of Hatred and
Fear, is much more effective a means of Evangelization than constantly talking about
God. One of my favorite bumper stickers says, "If you love Jesus work for Peace and Justice.
Any damn fool can honk". There's something to that. We've got to hold up a sign that identifies us as a people
whose lives are changed by our relationship with God Who is
Loving and Merciful. That relationship motivates us to serve each other in Humility.
The Letter to the Ephesians is another reminder that our Salvation isn't our own doing.
God's Grace isn't a Reward for our Works of Charity
and Justice. The Salvation we receive is free -- that's what
Grace means -- but because we have been given such a Gift, we ought to be motivated
to live lives that mirror the Forgiveness and Healing we have experienced. People
will see how we live, and will know that we are followers of Christ, and will want to follow too. When we
live with Integrity and Compassion, Christ is lifted up,
and people are Healed.
The Gospel talks about Moses lifting up a serpent in the desert, so that people could be
healed of their snake bites. Since the 16th century, that's been the symbol of
the Medical Professions: those snakes wound around a staff. For you crossword puzzle fans, it's called a Caduceus.
Think about the symbolism there. To be Healed of the snake bites, they had to look on a snake held in the air.
To be Healed,
we have to look clearly on the source of our problems, exposed for
everyone to see.
To find Forgiveness for our Sins, we need to look on the Cross,
where Jesus died for our Forgiveness and
Salvation. Christ was lifted up on the Cross, not for our
Condemnation, but so that we could look up and be Healed.
In any Liturgical Procession, what goes first? Not the Bishop, not the Priest, not the Scriptures or the
Incense. The Cross, lifted high, always leads a procession. It's the sign of
our Healing and our Salvation. And it's the sign
we have to make visible to the world if we are going to follow Jesus.
Don't be afraid to lift up that Cross. Don't hesitate to show Christ to the
people that God brings into your life. Some people are very comfortable wearing a Cross.
Some people hold up John 3:16 signs at football games. But if you are living your life in response to the Love and
Salvation you've received, living with Compassion and working for
Justice, people will see how God is working in you.