Sometimes it is tempting to think of our Lord Jesus Christ a bit like Santa Claus. We all know how Santa likes to keep two lists, one with the “good children” in it while the other has the “bad children” in it, so that he’ll know whom to reward come Christmas time. Similarly, we try to be good little Christians by following the Ten Commandments so that on the day Jesus returns for Judgement Day, he will reward us by taking us to heaven with him and not condemn us to hell.
But in this Sunday’s Gospel, St John reminds us that Jesus was sent into the world not to condemn but to save us. He didn’t come to tell us on which list our names can be found. He came to heal, protect, and rescue us. Yes, sometimes we choose to be naughty rather than nice. But rather than justly condemning us, God sent Jesus to be “lifted up” and to give “eternal life” to all who believe in him. That refers to the story in the Book of Exodus, when the Israelites were being bitten by poisonous snakes for complaining against God. God directed Moses to make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole so that anyone who looked at it was healed (Numbers 21:4-9).
Like the Israelites, if we want to be saved, the first step is to acknowledge that we need to be saved, that we are not perfect, that we occasionally fall. The salvation Jesus offers us is far greater than the Israelites’ physical healing from snake bites. He heals us spiritually. He forgives us and strengthens us to live differently. He restores us to a right relationship with God. And he gives us a real hope of heaven. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking of Jesus as Santa Claus. He is watching us not waiting to punish us as soon as we make a mistake, but to offer us forgiveness and guidance when we need it. He wishes not to condemn but to offer salvation. As we reach the half-way point of Lent, let us gaze on him, lifted up on the cross. Bring all your vulnerabilities to him, and let him heal and restore you.