NUMBERS 21:4-9 ; JOHN 8:21-30

The Gospel we have just heard includes some of the most impressive claims Jesus ever made.   In keeping with the implication of taking to himself the divine designation "I AM", which he takes to himself twice in this passage.   His use of it is ambiguous in some contexts, but it proves to be provocative in his discussion with strictly observant Jews.   Jesus put his case in very sharp and blunt words: "If you do not believe that I AM you will die in your sins", he firmly declared.   In the event, our Lord passes a very severe judgment on the Jews who accost him.   They cannot join him because he belongs to the world above whereas, he states,"you belong to what is below."   However, he does not leave matters there; he gives them a way out of their present self-destructive attitudes in a remarkable statement.   Implicitly he makes it clear that if they do believe in his claim, they can avoid death.   Their only salvation, he clearly tells them, is in a choice that is based on recognition that he is of such a personality that he merits a complete act of trusting faith.

In reflecting on this theme in the Gospel of Saint John it is striking to recognize how often it happens that our Lord explicitly states his identity as the one sent by God in a uniquely personal manner, different in its significance from the way the prophets spoke of their role.   Jesus asserts his identity as the one sent by God with a uniquely special role repeatedly in his ministry.

Only the one who puts faith in this claim of his can really receive him in the Eucharist that we are now about to celebrate in keeping with his command to "do this is memory of me."   As we faithfully carry out his words in this season of Lent we enter already into the heart of his Paschal mystery.   May the grace of this sacrament remain active in us in these final days of the Lenten time, deepening our faith and our dedication to his service.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger