Decades ago, a familiar sign held by bold believers at major sports events, simply read “John 3:16.”

For those unfamiliar with the Bible, it refers to these words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

But what are we to understand by the words “everyone who believes in him?”

Taking into consideration the pattern of Jesus’ public life and his horrific death on the cross, I submit to you that the bottom line for a true disciple is still the same as ever: anyone who truly believes must believe to the point of calling others to accountability, moral integrity, and to redressing the ills of this world and, thus, expect a lot of grief.

Today, the fourth Sunday of Lent was called also Laetare Sunday: “Rejoice Sunday.”

Yet, the way to rejoicing because God has so loved the world that he got directly and actively involved in its salvation, requires a lot of soul-searching, integrity, courage, endurance and resolve to go along with a firm faith.

God did indeed send his Son Jesus as Light into the world to dispel darkness and expose those who love darkness because, in darkness, they can go on doing all their reprehensible and immoral work in secret. 

This mission began 2000 years ago by God’s Son, Jesus. 

By now, the Light should have conquered every single corner of the darkest heart; but a quick reality check tells us that it is not so.

The much more numerous disciples of this world (the term “world” is used here in the sense given it by John in his gospel, i.e., those who refuse to accept or believe in Jesus), have become brazen, shameless, devious, and bold beyond imagining.

Noticing the disengagement and the aloofness of those who claim to be disciples of Christ and lovers of Light, far from going into hiding in some dark corner, those of the world are openly flaunting their perverse ideologies and their outrageously immoral behavior in broad daylight and dare any believer to stop them. 

They get away with it because: first, God is most loving and most patient. And second, they are on the offensive and quick to label anyone who opposes or condemns them as obsolete, intolerant, bigot, racist, stuck in the dark ages’ cretin.

They are mostly unopposed because too many believers, (those who have accepted the light of Christ) are not speaking out in defense of the absolute Truth that is Christ and are not witnessing their faith out in the open.

Too many believers, perhaps we included, have ignored the Holy Spirit’s anointing which they received when they were confirmed.

Given this inaction or lukewarm involvement at best, the situation is now favoring those who are shamelessly demanding us to condone and to approve godless lifestyles and blatantly unethical behaviors.

However, does that mean that we must put off our LAETARE, our rejoicing?

No, despite we having allowed unnatural, harmful, and idiotic ideologies to prevail and brainwash so many, this is still Laetare Sunday because of the direct involvement of our God. 

Today, Jesus repeats to us, with divine insistence, that the Father so loved the world that he took the initiative of sending him, his only Son, to show to every person of good will the way to salvation and to prove that Truth cannot be overcome by mere human ways of reasoning and acting.

And why can I be so confident in pointing this out to you?

If we read the Gospel more closely, we notice how while the sick were brought to him, Jesus sought out sinners himself: the Samaritan woman, Zaccheus, the adulterous woman, Mary Magdalene (from whom he cast out seven demons), Levi, Simon Peter, and the repentant thief, to mention the few named in the gospels.

Except for Judas Iscariot, the traitor, every search was successful; every finding a step forward, and every return to the Light a celebration, a preview of Laetare Sunday.

Can you think of a more legitimate celebration than the one that Jesus has prepared for those among us who want to end a life spent in the darkness of shameful, sinful behavior?

I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Luke 15:7

And the celebration could be even louder if those among us who have lived a life of tepid love for Jesus, due to fearful disengagement, dare to step into the light of true, bold discipleship.

There are plenty of precedents. Let us stay with Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple of Jesus, and Nicodemus, the one mentioned in today’s gospel.

Nicodemus, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, went to see Jesus at night, because he was drawn to him by grace, yet still shackled by self-preservation.

Jesus lit that night of secrecy and caution with an overwhelming display of divine love.

Sometime later, after Jesus on the cross gave up his Spirit, Joseph of Arimathea felt emboldened and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus and Nicodemus came forth bringing an enormous amount of myrrh and aloes to embalm his body.

A similar transformation is meant for us: on those who are living in the darkness of habitual sins, and on those who are shackled by fear, lukewarmness and disengagement, Jesus shines the irresistible, disturbing, blinding light of God’s Son lifted high on the cross.

Shortly, we are going to re-present for ourselves that Sacrifice of the Cross.

Yet, we remain free.

We can continue a life of lukewarmness, disengagement and dissatisfaction or, like Nicodemus, we can let ourselves be blinded by the light of such an unmatched display of love and begin to act courageously and boldly as genuine disciples of Christ.