Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
(Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30)
It is said that the crucifixion is the most depicted image in fine art. There are not only countless paintings and statutes but also numerous styles. Some crucifixions show Jesus with blood pouring from his hands, feet, and side. In others he wears a royal crown or priestly vestments indicating his different roles in Christian theology. The evangelists themselves depict the crucifixion in different ways. Mark and Matthew see Jesus dying misunderstood by all the people and apparently abandoned by God. In Luke Jesus dies a friend to sinners and assured of the Father’s presence. John has Jesus high on the cross, a reigning king no one can touch.
In today’s gospel from John Jesus describes how the people will see him on the cross. He says that they will know him as he truly is – the great I AM. They will recognize him as the Son of God by his innocence and also his willingness to die as a sacrificial offering for sin. He does not flinch in front of the imposing Pilate. Nor does he beg out of the ordeal when torturers take up whips and thorns. He faces all the punishment as self-possessed as a king, as intent as a priest, and as certain as a prophet.
The first reading helps us understand the crucifixion. It indicates how looking at Christ crucified can be salvific. Of course, it is not just seeing the dying Christ that saves. Rather we have to allow his combination of innocence and selflessness to transform our lives to be like his. The grace of his death and resurrection can turn us into loving daughters and sons of the Father.