MARCH 27, 2007: TUESDAY OF FIFTH WEEK OF LENT: NUMBERS 21:4-9; JOHN 8:21-30
YOU WILL SURELY DIE IN YOUR SINS UNLESS YOU COME TO BELIEVE THAT I AM. "WHO ARE YOU, THEN?" THEY ASKED HIM. Todayís Gospel text confronts us with what is arguably the most significant issue that is posed to us in the course of our life: the true, full identity of Christ. WHO ARE YOU, THEN?" THEY ASKED HIM. Our Lord himself implies the fundamental importance of this question in telling those who asked this question YOU WILL SURELY DIE IN YOUR SINS UNLESS YOU COME TO BELIEVE THAT I AM. His identity is somehow, and mysteriously, expressed in this I AM which echoes the name God revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Today by this passage the question posed to each of us is: Do you believe that Jesus, while being truly and fully a man is, in his person, God, equal to the Father?
St. John realized how fundamental the answer to this question is for the proper understanding of the whole of the Lordís life and ministry, and so he provides the answer already in the opening sentence of his Gospel. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This transcendent truth confers a unique, overpowering significance to every event, every word of the Savior. What it means for each of us who accept it as divinely revealed truth depends largely on the understanding we form of God Himself. I do not say it depends on the concept we form of God, but of our understanding of His nature. For until we grasp that He is by nature beyond any concept we are capable of arriving at we lack the essential awareness of what it means that God is infinite and so transcends any clear conception we might form of Him. The Logos of God is a Person who has taken on flesh and assumed a human soul precisely because the human logos, the mind and imagination of man, can know God as saving love only through the intersubjective relationship established by faith in the Incarnate Word.
But it was not sufficient, in Godís mysterious wisdom, that His Word become flesh and dwell among us. He was also to take on our miseries and atone for our sins by undergoing humiliation, rejection, suffering and death on the cross. And so in replying to the question "Who are you?", seeing that they did not understand the explanation he gave at first, our Lord went on to add: "When you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know that I am He." This is a reference to his coming crucifixion, as is clear to us who live after the event. It is also an indication that his death on the cross will possess a fullness of healing power. It is the fulfillment of the image of the serpent fashioned by Moses whose saving function is described in the first reading today. Jesus himself had already said as much earlier in his teaching when he spoke with Nicodemus. "The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him." (John 3:13)
The message, then, of todayís texts predicts the most awe-inspiring of mysteries: the eternal Father so loved the world that he gave His only Son, not only to become one with us in being made man, but to suffer and die so as to reconcile us with the Father. This gift of the Father and the trusting obedience of the Son are the measure of the love with which we, unworthy and sinful creatures, are freed from sin and death and given the promise and firm hope of life eternal in the glory of the living God.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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