How is your Lenten journey coming along? The reason the ancient season of Lent came into being was so that the church could prepare for the sacred celebrations of Holy Week. These three days (Triduum) are the most sacred for us as Christians. So, the Church takes some extended time for reflection and preparation. You may have noticed that early in Lent the readings focused more on the triad of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Sprinkled throughout the 40 days are themes of sin and repentance. Now as we press close to Holy Week, we begin getting glimpses which we are to etch on the memory tablets of our minds and familiarize ourselves with them so that when we see it again, we will clearly recognize it. Such is the Gospel today.
It is that central section of John’s Gospel when Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and gets in this conversation with the Jewish authorities. Jesus clearly understands his role and authority. He is his Father’s ambassador. He also understands where this will lead him as he predicts his future to them. He is to be “Lifted Up” On that day, no one would have expected that the lifting up would be on a cross, suffering the wretched punishment of crucifixion.
It is not a coincidence that this reading is paired with the Old Testament story from the book of Numbers whereby Moses lifts up the bronze image of a serpent who was biting the people. And why were they getting bit? Because they were complaining against God. Just as a side note, both the Old and New Testaments, are consistent in revealing that God is intolerant towards grumbling, murmuring and complaining. The text of the Book of Numbers states the seraph serpents bit the people in punishment. Only after they have been bitten do they realize their sin. Yet that is not the end of the story, for God acts with compassion on the people, forgives them and provides a remedy. The remedy is to look at a bronze image of the very thing which bit them. Hold it up and look at it. And Jesus prophecy is that he will be held up so we can look at him.
Some people are comfortable just keeping this as a historical event. Others have etched the image on their minds so deeply that they begin to see innocent people who are crucified in today’s world by abusive power, injustice, ignorance, and justification. If you think about the crucified of today, then let’s ask once more, how is your Lenten journey really coming along?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.