4th. Sunday of Lent (B)
(2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-21; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21)
It must have seemed very mysterious to the People of Israel when, later on, scrutinizing the Scriptures in order to better understand and serve the Lord their God, they were faced with that bizarre incident taken from the history of their forebears journeying across the desert from slavery under the Egyptians to the land the Lord would give them, that there they might serve Him in freedom. It was, indeed, mysterious for them -- and unavoidably so -- because the whole episode has been found to be rich with meaning and significance not only for subsequent Israelites over more than 1000 years, but even more particularly for the whole future Christian people. In the desert, several hundreds, perhaps several thousands, of the children of Israel were saved by looking up at the bronze likeness of a deadly serpent; and that saving incident, interpreted for us by Jesus’ words in the Gospel, has carried and still bears with it salutary teaching for countless millions of Christian people throughout time.
For God, having sent the punishing serpents to do their work among a sinful and rebellious people, was then, subsequently, able to turn that deadly instrument of His wrath into a saving grace: ‘look faithfully at the bronze serpent in sincere acknowledgment of your sin, and you will be healed of your wounds’.
For us now, Jesus says that God the Father allowed His only begotten Son, His Beloved, to be rejected by the religious authorities of His own people and cruelly tortured, before being lifted up on the Cross by the powers and principalities of imperial Rome and finally left as an exhibit to suffer a slow and agonising death.
Can God turn that most brutal, degrading, and horrendous event to serve any good purpose? Most assuredly He can, for love, divine love, was involved: for He Who suffered loved to call Himself the ‘Son of Man’, Who, as Son of the Father was consumed with divine love for us, while, as Man -- and indeed as our Head -- He loved His Father with the total fullness of His divinely perfect humanity. The complete answer to our question was made manifest when Jesus, three days later, rose from the dead; for then His rejection and suffering on the Cross was shown to have been but a prelude to, and preparation for, His sublime exaltation to heavenly glory in our humanity!
Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that your Son may glorify You. (John 17:1)
Look on the bronze serpent raised up on high that all might be able to see it and find healing! The bronze serpent showed the cause of Israel’s suffering, for it recalled and represented the original serpent in Eden who injected the poison of sin into human life, for indeed it was Israel’s sin that brought on the punishment of those later serpents bites in the desert of Sinai. Jesus crucified on high likewise represented the horror of human suffering from sin (not His own but His people’s); but Jesus’ Pasch did not end with that suffering for it was entered upon and embraced as but the initial stage of His way back to His Father; and so it is Jesus, returned to His Father and finally lifted up in the glory of God by the Spirit of God, Who manifests the healing power now being offered to humanity against the primordial and still enduring ‘bite’ of sin and eternal death.
The LORD said to Moses, "Make a serpent and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover."
People of God, it is not enough for us -- the new Chosen People of Spirit and Truth -- to look on Jesus crucified with nothing more than sincere sorrow decrying such barbarity, for many humanists pride themselves on such sentiments. It is necessary for us and all who aspire to salvation, to look at Jesus on that pole of suffering not only humbly confessing Him to have been raised up there for our sins, but also gratefully acknowledging that same Jesus as now raised up on high in glory, and to commit our sinful selves to Him with faith in the promises of His divine goodness, and with confidence in that dying manifestation of His now eternal human compassion; thus being able to hope most surely in Him for forgiveness and healing.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
The message of Christianity is perennial, and it has been proclaimed implicitly from the beginning of man’s relations with God, and explicitly in the life and teaching of Christ and His Church: in order to reach the fullness of our human capacity for life, the fullness for which we were originally created by God and subsequently redeemed by Christ, we must leave our sin and sinfulness behind by faith in, obedience to, and companionship with, Jesus our Saviour, present to us and for us in and through His Church.
The alternatives are stark and irreducible: as shown, on the one hand, in the horror of the Son of Man suffering as Jesus of Nazareth on the Cross on Calvary, and on the other hand, in the divine majesty of the same Son of Man raised up to, and sharing in, the eternal glory of His Father by the Spirit of them Both.
Why must there be this utterly un-crossable divide? Because of the divine beauty and goodness of God’s love for us. Our scientists search ever more frantically for life-supporting planets such as our Earth. There are none in our solar system and so they go ever further and deeper into mind-numbingly distant galaxies and stars looking for possible planetary systems to be found there … but nothing can be found like our dear Earth … for we are uniquely loved and created in the image and likeness of God. Profligacy in creation or indifference in our moral response to it are unthinkable because they are both absolutely alien to the beauty and holiness of Divine Love sourcing, and willing to express Itself in, our earthly being and our eternal calling.
Pope Francis seeks to emphasise God’s mercy which indeed, though beyond our comprehension, sustains all our hope, and should be central in our lives; however, St. Paul in today’s second reading guides us to the ultimate root of our faith:
God, Who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.
Dear People of God, the great tragedy and the ultimate wrong afflicting and threatening our world today is ingratitude to, and wilful ignorance and defiance of, God’s love for us and all mankind; above all, however, such ingratitude, ignorance and defiance shown by nominally Catholic Christians! The very first petition in the only prayer taught us by Jesus goes immediately, as did His whole life, to this most radical evil afflicting our world today:
OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN, HALLOWED BE THY NAME;
May our lives, refreshed and renewed by today’s fellowship in and with Jesus our Lord, help bring to fulfilment His work and our glorious legacy:
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him (and His Church).