In our Gospel reading today, Jesus explains to Nicodemus the mission of the Son of Man. This proclamation comes early in the Gospel of John. At this point, Jesus has called His disciples, performed His first miracle at the wedding at Cana, and drove the money changers out of the Temple. If someone was reading the text for the first time, she would have no clue exactly how the Son of Man will be lifted up.
Maybe the novice reader could think it was through performing memorable things that Jesus would secure eternal life. From the oldest epics, like the Sumerian Gilgamesh, an ancient idea of eternal life is that it comes to those continually remembered by the living for their uncanny feats. Or, another way the Son of Man could be lifted up is through the use of power. Jesus could use his power to control people, or possibly to become a military leader. Indeed, the Jews of his time were expecting the Son of Man to liberate Israel from foreign rule. The surprise of the reader as she finishes the Gospel of John is that it is neither through heroic feats or power, but through the cross that God gives eternal life.
The Cross is the physical sign of Jesus’ embrace of pain and suffering to be opened to new life. The cross is not a sign of our noteworthy heroic feats or our power as others might construe heroism or power; rather, it is a symbol of what we will do for others since someone embraced the pain of the Cross for us. We die to ourselves when we take up our daily crosses as Jesus died to his self-interest taking the Cross—an uncanny feat and true power.
What is a daily cross in my life right now? Where have I experienced the death and life of the Cross? How does Jesus help me carry my cross?