Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
(Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30)
The Gospel of John is full of double meanings. Life and death have both physical and spiritual significances. In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of “’going away,’” and the Pharisees mistake him to mean that he is going to kill himself. Actually he is saying that he will return to his Father in heaven. When Jesus tells the same Pharisees that they will “’lift up the Son of Man,’” he has another double meaning in mind.
Jesus is lifted up twice in the gospel. The first lifting takes place with his crucifixion. The scene is reminiscent of the reading from Numbers when Moses lifts up an artificial serpent on a poll to heal all onlookers who were bitten by snakes after complaining, like college students, about the quality of their food. Although many think of the crucifixion as at least a setback for Jesus, in the context of John’s gospel it is victorious. Jesus is crucified following his Father’s plan and in control of all that happens. The second lifting up occurs when Jesus is raised from the dead in absolute glory.
Looking at a crucifix, we do not shudder but find hope. One reason for confidence is that most crucifixes do not reveal the gore of an actual execution. But it is also true that the cross gives hope because we link it with the resurrection. We know that if we suffer life’s setbacks with the same fortitude as Jesus, we will, like the Israelites in the first reading, triumph over our woes.