Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know!

From Mount Hor, the people of Israel set out along the Red Sea Road, intending to bypass the land of Edom. They became cross and irritable, their patience worn out by the journey. They spoke out against Moses and against the LORD: “Why did you drag us out of Egypt to die in this godforsaken c9untry? There is no decent food, no fresh water. We can’t stomach this stuff any longer!

To punish them, the LORD sent poisonous snakes among the people; they bit them, and many of them died. Then the peo0ple came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke out against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, and beg him to take these snakes away.”

Moses prayed for the people. And God told him: “Make a snake, and mount it on a pole. Anyone who is bitten and looks at it will be healed.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole, as God had instructed him. Whenever anyone who had been bitten looked at the bronze snake was healed.
(Numbers 21:4-9)

Jesus spoke to the Pharisees: “I’m going away, and you’ll be looking for me, but you won’t find me, and you will die in your sins. Where I’m going, you can’t come.

The Pharisees said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means when he says, “Where I’m going, you can’t come”?

He said to them, “You belong to this world, but I belong to another world, a world above this one. That’s why I told you that you will die in your sins. If you won’t believe that I am who I say that I am, you will die in your sins.”

They asked him, “Well, who are you, then?”

He answered, “I have been telling you who I am from the outset. I have many things to say that concern you, and that condemn you. The one who sent me is trustworthy, and I am telling the world what I have heard from him.”

They didn’t believe that he was taking about his Father. So Jesus tried one more time. “When you lift up the Son of Man, you will know who I am, and you will know that there’s nothing I do that I haven’t been taught by my Father. The One who sent me stays with me. He never abandons me, because I always do what is pleasing to him. When he put it in those terms, many people came to believe in him.
(John 8:21-30)

Today’s readings have a common theme: In the First Reading, the people of Israel are healed from the bite of the poisonous snake when Moses lifts up a bronze serpent, and lifts it up on a pole (likely a shepherd’s crook). In the Gospel, Jesus tells the people that when he is lifted up, they will know who he is.

The verb that John uses in this gospel hypsothenai “to be lifted up” has two significant meanings, in the context of this gospel. It can mean “to be lifted up in crucifixion”, and “to be lifted up in resurrection”. Jesus knows that his death and resurrection are a part of the same process, two phases in the work he had been sent into this world to perform. “Unless the grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit”, Jesus said in another place.

The Father is pleased with Jesus because he does what is pleasing to him. We have been taught since we were children that we will be lifted up into eternal joy if we do what is pleasing to God. But before we enter through those heavenly gates, we must accept to be humbled, so that we can rise again to the fullness of joy when we are lifted up into the presence of our Eternal Father.

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