The words above are a beautiful way to introduce Chapter VIII of Book II of Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ regarding “On the Intimate Friendship of Jesus.” Throughout the chapter, as he does in this quote, he contrasts in many ways the benefits of being close to Jesus versus what happens when we stray far from Him.
The Gospel reading (Jn 3:7b-15) continues yesterday’s conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus is still in the dark regarding Jesus reference to being “born again” or, really, “born from above” (see this helpful article). Jesus calls him out here, expecting more from a Bible scholar and a teacher, but this reprimand is an invitation to a deeper understanding through an openness for truth.
Today’s excerpt concludes with the words in the headline, but Jesus has more to say to Nicodemus, starting with the famous John 3:16 that one often sees in the stands at football games (the remainder of this episode is proclaimed at tomorrow’s Mass). You can bet that Nicodemus went back to his Scripture scrolls and prayer after this episode.
We will soon talk about “paradise” and “eternal life,” but first I would like to share an important excerpt regarding the quote in question here from an excellent commentary:
The verb “lifted up” (hypsoō) has a twofold meaning. It can mean lift up in a literal sense, as in Jesus being physically lifted up from the ground on the cross. It can also mean lift up in the sense of exalt. Jesus uses the word in both senses. Jesus’ being lifted up in ignominy from the ground while on the cross will also be the moment of his exaltation, when he preeminently reveals God’s love. (Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV. The Gospel of John [Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture] [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015], 73)
Our sins lifted the Lord up on the cross and He repays us, not as we deserve, but with “God’s love,” as the commentary notes, the chance for redemption, for eternal life, for paradise, as He promised to Dismas who was crucified next to Him (see Lk 23:40-43).
Considering that we raised Jesus by our sins, now it is our obligation to raise Him in exaltation, in prayer, in song, in word, in deed, in interactions. That is, as Kempis implores, to be “with Jesus” now, to experience a foretaste of “sweet paradise” here on earth, so that through this belief (meaning: embracing the entire Deposit of Faith) we “may have eternal life.” The alternative “is an unbearable hell” starting here and lasting forever.
Jesus invites us to friendship (see Jn 15:14). Let us embrace this most generous offer and treat Him as our very best and faithful companion for the rest of our lives so that we can spend all eternity with Him in glory.
Christ and the Good Thief (c. 1566) by Titian