"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16).
If you decided to get a tattoo, what would it be and where would you put it? The question is hypothetical and, for many of us, implausible, but it still invites each of us to consider what image or phrase is so important that we would be willing to wear it more or less permanently on our body.
The familiar scripture phrase in today's Gospel from John, "For God so loved the world ...", is a favorite of evangelicals for a reason. It sums up the message of the New Testament about who Jesus is and why he came into the world. Jesus is the "Son of God," John's way of expressing the mystery of the Incarnation -- that God's most intimate Self-expression in human form was Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh. God sent his only Son out of love, not to condemn the world but to save it.
One way to make this Word flesh and to keep it before our eyes at all times might be to tattoo it, chapter and verse, on the palm of our hand. Another way, more intimate and direct, is to recognize that the image of God is already imprinted on our bodies, for we have been created in the God's likeness. Every human being bears this image of divine identity and eternal destiny as a child of God. By baptism, Christians are privileged to know it consciously and to treat one another with the dignity we all share.
In the same breath that Jesus reveals this to Nicodemus in today's Gospel, he also gives him a hint of the paradox of how God will save the world through him. The "Son of Man," another biblical name for the Messiah, will be lifted up for the whole world to see, the way the bronze image of a serpent was fixed to a pole and raised up by Moses as the antidote to the deadly attack by snakes on the people in the desert (Numbers 21:9). The "lifting up of the Son of Man" for John was both Jesus' crucifixion and his resurrection. It would be by the death of the Son of God that the world was to be saved.
Whether visible or invisible, every Christian is marked with the sign of the cross, a permanent bodily reminder of just how much God loves us. It is a glimpse of our ultimate identity and our hand-held map to eternity. In Christ, and by his death and resurrection, we are bound for glory.