Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Numbers 21:4-9 + John 8:21-30
March 23, 2021
“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM ….”
It’s questionable whether, when Jesus told the Pharisees that they would realize Jesus’ identity when they lifted up the Son of Man, they understood that He was foretelling His being lifted up on the Cross. Yet perhaps the Pharisees had already at this point plotted the death of Jesus in detail.
There’s no question, however, that the Pharisees were unable to understand what Jesus on this occasion was claiming about Himself. Twice in today’s Gospel Reading Jesus uses the divine name of “I AM”—the divine Name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush—to identify Himself. But Jesus does not reveal His divine identity for His own sake.
Jesus took on human nature so that through it, He could redeem fallen man. We might wonder just how closely today’s First Reading was chosen to point to Jesus’ words in the Gospel passage. In that light, we ought to recall what Jesus proclaimed just five chapters earlier in John 3:14-15: “‘just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’”
Jesus seems, very unflatteringly, to be identifying Himself with a serpent in the desert. If this seems an odd comparison, recall St. Paul’s words in the Second Reading on Ash Wednesday: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”
God the Father making His divine Son to be sin, as incredible as it seems, was done for a divine purpose, as the evangelist explains after Jesus connects His future self-sacrifice with Moses’ lifting up the serpent: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” [John 3:16].