On first reading, it would seem that there is enough theology in John’s Gospel passage today to keep a theologian busy explaining for a week. I like to think it involves three relationships between Christ, his listeners, the world and his Father.
Jesus warns his listeners they will die in their sins because they refuse to believe in him. Those who hear his message belong to this world. And although Jesus is in the world he is not part of the world. He belongs to the world above. He loves the world but the world rejects him.
His relationship with the Father is one of equality. They ask, “Who are you?” Jesus gives them the answer: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.”
The words “When you lift up the Son of Man” and “I AM” would undoubtedly remind the Pharisees of their history. On Mount Sinai God told the prophet Moses, the Jewish Law-giver, “I AM” was his name.
Again, they were well aware of their ancestors grumbling against Moses during their desert journey from Egypt. In response God punished them allowing a plague of seraph serpents to bite and kill many of their forebears. We read in the Book of Numbers that at God’s instruction Moses formed a bronze image of the serpent and raised it up on a pole. When those afflicted looked at the serpent God healed them. In time, the allusion would be obvious to them. Jesus would be lifted up on the cross and those who looked on him believing in his redeeming power would be saved.
“Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.”
During the Lenten Season, a rewarding prayer is to look up to the crucified Christ on your crucifix while contemplating one or other of his Seven Last Words. Each final word has a unique grace associated with it. The reward for this type of prayer pays awesome dividends.
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