5th Week of Lent
1st Reading: Num 21:4-9
From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road, to bypass the land of Edom. But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray the Lord to take the serpents away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, “Make a serpent and mount it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
Gospel: Jn 8:21-30
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill himself, is he, because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you in condemnation. But the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.” They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
I AM GOING AWAY: Jesus speaks of His departure and tells the Pharisees, “where I am going, you can’t follow me”. They couldn’t understand the words of Jesus, and they they asked, “Is he going to kill Himself?”. Their blindness is as a result of sin. They are far away from God and so, fail to recognise Jesus. As the Israelites were complaining about God, they were in sin, and could not see God’s providence. God punished them, though soon after, since He does not desire anyone to perish, He asked Moses to make a Bronze serpent. This provided healing to them. Many times we sin and complain about God. Many times we are blind and fail to see the graces of God in our lives. This is the true path towards self-destruction. Let us turn to Jesus on the Cross and receive healing. Let us turn to Jesus in the Eucharist and have life.
Prayer: Lord, take away my doubt.
BITTEN AND HEALED: On their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites lost their patience and did what humans of all times do: complained against God and their leader Moses. In the symbol of the bronze serpent we recognize the healing that God offers. Sin is like a snake bite in the life of the Christian. St. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, confronts us with the reality of sin: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3,22-25). This makes us aware of our need for healing. Jesus, lifted up on the tree of the cross, offers healing to all and is a sign of victory of God’s love. Gazing upon the cross and contemplating him who loved us so much, will transform many lives and much of human history.
WHEN I AM LIFTED UP: In the Gospel of John, there are three occasions when Jesus speaks about being lifted up. These three times correspond to the three stages of God’s-experience that appear in the Christian spiritual traditions: (1) Purgative stage – the stage of forgiveness and healing: “as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up” (Jn 3:14). Gazing at Jesus lifted up in his death and resurrection we experience death to our old selves and rising to a new life. (2) Illuminative stage – the stage of clarity about our own understanding of God: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He” (Jn 8:28, today’s gospel). Gazing with the eyes of faith at Jesus lifted up in his death and resurrection we experience him as the Son of God. (3) Unitive stage – the stage of complete union with God: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself’” (Jn 12:32). We have the possibility to become one with God!