Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent
(Num 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30)
A story was told: George Macdonald reports in his diary, “Yesterday, Death came, and knocked at my thin door.” For each of us, the door between us and death is thin indeed. Hearing that knock can chill us to the bone. Despite his great faith and love for God, MacDonald chilled when he heard that knock. “I was disturbed not with awe but fear,” he confessed to God. “Ashamed I instantly roused my will to seek thee-only to fear the more. I could not find thee in the house.” (taken from The One Year Book of Encouragement by Harold Myra, p. 206) Death is feared by man. No one wants to die and so God comes to our rescue to help us view things in a wider and meaningful perspective. In fact, in God’s manifold wisdom, He makes Himself tangible through symbols and signs. Today’s readings inspire us to view things in a meaningful perspective: the first reading makes us realize that God heals the Israelites who were bitten by serpents due to their complaints with the Lord while the Gospel speaks of Jesus offering His life on the Cross that we may live. As we come closer to the Holy Week, we are confronted with symbols and images that God had used and shown to make His love to us tangible as possible. Let us look into the readings and how these images been part of God’s way of revealing the totality of His love and will.
1. Image as source of healing- God is merciful and part of that mercy is healing from the pains of sin. Eyes have their own purpose- to see what God made for man. Pope Francis comments “The bronze serpent brought healing, but the bronze serpent was a sign of two things”: on the one hand, “the sin committed by the serpent, the seduction by the serpent, the astuteness of the serpent”; and on the other, “the sign of Christ’s Cross. It was a prophecy”, Francis explained. “This is why the Lord says to them: ‘when you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he.’” “Those who did not look at the bronze serpent after being bitten by a serpent in the desert, died in their sin, the sin of grumbling against God and against Moses”, Pope Francis explained. At the same time, “those who, like the serpent, do not recognize in that upraised man the strength of God who made himself to be sin in order to heal us, will die in their sins”.
2. Image as source of knowing God- the disciples of Jesus became great followers because they saw in Him the presence of God and besides everytime Jesus heals those who were afflicted He would announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Through Him the Father is revealed. The Father has been mentioned twice in the Gospel today which also indicates that Jesus came to introduce the new name of God who is the “Father.” And thus, Jesus was the image of the “invisible God” (Col 1:15). On the Cross and through the Cross, peoples will recognize that Jesus is God. “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM” In the Gospel, Jesus says “’Where I am going you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You belong to what is below.” I belong to what is above.” This indicated role of Jesus’ coming into the world. Through Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is fully revealed.
3. Image as source of life- The image of Jesus on the Cross and the image of the serpent which was mounted on a pole became the source of healing and life. It was promised by God that anyone who would look at the carved serpent will live. After their complaints, which was symbolic of the burden of life, they were punished by God. Pope Francis comments that “the weary people, the people who cannot bear the journey, drift away from the Lord, speak ill of Moses and the Lord, and find those snakes which bite and kill.” Thus, “the Lord tells Moses to build a serpent out of bronze ‘and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’” This is the reason why our Catholic faith requires us to have images like the Crucifix to serve as visible sign that God has the power to being life beyond the tragic death and human brutality on the Cross. The resurrection would become the greatest sign of life beyond the human fall and death.
Tuesday of the 4th Week of Lent
(Ez 47:1-9,12; Jn 5:1-16)
A story has been told: a dog once wandered to a preacher’s home, and his three sons played with it, fed it, and soon became quite fond of it. It so happened that the dog had three white hairs in its tail. One day, the preacher and his sons spotted an advertisement in the city newspaper about a lost dog. The description of the stray they had taken in matched perfectly. The minister later said, “in the presence of my three boys, we carefully separated the three white hairs and removed them from the dog’s tail.” The real owner of the dog eventually discovered where his stray pooch had gone and he came to claim him. The dog showed every sign of recognizing his owner, so the man was ready to take him away. At that point, the minister spoke up and asked, “Didn’t you say the dog would be known by three white hairs in its tail?” The owner, unable to find the identifying feature, was forced to admit that this dog didn’t fully fit the description of his lost dog and he left. Years passed and the minister noted with sadness, “we kept the dog, but I lost my three boys for Christ that day.” His sons no longer had confidence in what their father professed to be true. (taken from God’s Little Devotional Book, p. 133). The three children lost their trust and confidence in their father and it was a greater loss than for a dog to be given back to the owner. This happened to the Pharisees who were always in opposition to Jesus’ mission. They would rather cling to their own ways than to cling to Jesus. The would lose a greater opportunity of grace. Today, we encounter Jesus performing the third sign as related to us by St. John. John has been almost exclusively concerned with Jesus’ dealings with indivituals. There is invididual contact, but the healing of the lame man leads to a conflict with the Pharisees, the religious leaders. Jesus performs miracles as signs of God’s power, Kingdom, and salvation but instead of faith, strenuous opposition is aroused among the national religious leaders. The conflict grows and intensifies. This will lead to the greatest opposition meriting His death. Let us look into the sign Jesus performs in the Gospel because from it we may draw the importance of new images and its new meaning that link to the miraculous signs of the Kingdom.
1. Feast- John indicated that Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for a feast but it was not indicated what feast it was. If it was to be related with chapter 6 then it would be the Passover. John did not indicate what feast; it may be the Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles. However, St. John retains its ambiguity to inigmatically make us imagine that Jesus would be the protagonist of a new feast. As a Jew, Jesus went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast “of the Jews” which indicates His fidelity to the festivals yet the foreshadowing of a new feast Jesus would be performing would be the fulfillment and completion of the Jewish festivals. The Last Supper will be the inaugurating feast Jesus would newly institute and this will later be called the Holy Eucharist. The fidelity Jesus showed by going to the Feast in Jerusalem, will now be the new feast of His disciples and later the Church. It will be faith that will make the Feast a new celebration. Benedict XVI says that “the Church’s faith is essentially a Eucharistic faith, and it is especially nourished at the table of the Eucharist.” (SC 6)
2. Water- the mention of water in both readings today catches attention. Since water is an element essential to life, its meaning and evocativeness are universal. In the Bible, water symbolizes a cosmic force that only God can control and govern, as a source of life, and as a cleansing agent. In the book of Ezekiel, water symbolized as the source of life. It flows from the Temple and runs to the different directions of the earth. In the Gospel, we were told by John that the pool becomes the gathering place of those who are ill hoping that when the water is stirred up, an angel of the Lord could have done it and anyone who comes first would be healed. Both readings speak of the grace of God through the image of water. In the holiness code of Israel, water was an essential means of cleansing because defilement could emanate from contact with the dead, or with one of the body fluids, or food forbidden or by contact with lepers. In the past, bodies of water were feared by Jews and they remember the diluge in the time of Noah. Yet, water is now used as an image of grace and new life.
3. Healing- the man who was lame was healed by Jesus on a sabbath. To the eyes of the Pharisees, the command “rise, pick up your mat and walk” was unclear. This will only be clear when Jesus will finally rise from the dead. The command was foreshadowing Jesus who will rise from death and Jesus is indeed in control of all the forces of the world. He is the point of reference for all creation. All creation will look at Jesus as the paradigm for the new creation. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. The dispute over the healing of the man who was lame on a sabbath is also indicative of the coming new day of worship. The sabbath is good and all good is expected on a Sabbath. The Jews regarded the Sabbath as a joyful day, but nevertheless they hedged it about with a multitude of restrictions, which cannot but have been burdensome. Work of all kinds was prohibited, and the attempt to define work with precision, so as to be certain what was disallowed, was sometimes fantastic. Jesus persistently maintained that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. He ignored the mass of scribal regulations, and this inevitably came into conflic with the authorities. Healing and compassion are far more important than any scribal regulations regarding the Sabbath day.