Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
(Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30)
The Reverend William Sloan Coffin Jr., a prominent peace activist, used to say that he had a “lover’s quarrel with America.” He served the country as a CIA agent but thought some of its international policies were wrong-headed. We might see Jesus in today’s gospel as having “a lover’s quarrel” with Judaism.
Jesus is in the midst of a debate with the Jews. He is, of course, Jewish himself but is opposing standard Jewish teaching. He tells them that he has much to say to condemn current Jewish doctrine. He concludes that when he is lifted up on the cross, the world will know that his criticisms of Judaism are just.
We should realize that the dialogue in this gospel was framed long after Jesus’ death. Christians and Jews were much at odds because of Roman persecution of both. John, the evangelist, writes as if Jesus defies his own people. This is likely an exaggeration. But it is true that Jews cannot accept Jesus’ divinity as we do. A central issue is Jesus’ death on the cross. For Jews it is the ultimate stumbling block. “How could God allow himself to be crucified?” they ask. For us Jesus’ allowing himself to be crucified in obedience to God, his Father, indicates his divine nature.