Is 52.13-53.12; Ps 30(31); Heb 1.14-16; 5.7-9; Jn 18.1-19.42
She Was Just 22
Alin was just 22 years old. She was full of life, beautiful and talented. Fate sealed her life at this age. She was diagnosed with brain cancer. The torture began. She was determined to beat this horrible sickness. She was full of hope and at times hopes against hope, maintaining her composure and calm. To be precise she suffered for 4 years until she was very badly ill and doctors had given up hopes. But she was as always hopeful that she will be alright and will resume her college studies. I went to meet her just after my papa’s first death anniversary on 25th January 2011. I was till then struggling to come to terms with my papa’s sudden death last year. When I met this girl with this horrible cross, I had no words to console her. But she was still hopeful with her eyes beaming with light and serenity. At one point she asked me to put my hand on her head for prayers. My hands shivered with fear and I asked the Lord for help. Then she told me, ‘do you think father, the Lord has abandoned me?’ I was dumb; no word came to my lips. I closed my eyes and just remained in silence. When I left her home I said to her, ‘May the Lord take care of you’. She died in June this year (2011). A thought came to my mind when I saw the photographs of her funeral: “My God, My Lord, why? Why this innocent girl had to die?
Behold the Man
After Jesus is brutally scourged, Pilate, hoping that the assembled mob will be placated by the sight of the chastised Jesus, places him on display and declares “Ecce Homo.” “Behold the Man.” The scourging has rendered Jesus into a blood-covered mess. There would be blood dripping from dozens, perhaps even hundreds of wounds, and flaps of skin would be hanging from his lacerated and bruised body.
Man without a Face
Jesus would have been a horrid sight to behold. As Isaiah prophesied, “so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless.” Indeed, Pilate was banking on Jesus’ appearance; he was hoping that beholding the sight of Jesus would move the mob to pity and get sufficient reasons to release him.
But the sight of Jesus does not bring out the compassion of the crowd, but incites them to call for Jesus’ blood. The sight of blood and suffering does not satisfy them. It startles them to demand more blood and more suffering. Seeing Jesus, they cry “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate’s ploy of trying to play on the crowd’s sympathy backfires.
The Last Attempt Pilate’s last attempt to spare Jesus’ from the cross is an appeal to the crowd’s patriotism. Pilate knew all too well how the Jews despised the Romans and greatly desired their freedom. So he brings Jesus out, enthrones Him on the judge’s bench, and declares “Ecce Rex vester,” “Behold your King.” The crowd is given a choice, just like they had a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. They can embrace Jesus as their King, or they can embrace Caesar. And again, they cry “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!... We have no king but Caesar.”
Whenever Pilate says “Behold”, whether he knows it or not, whether he believes it or not, he is declaring a truth about Jesus. Moved by jealousy, hatred, and blood lust, the crowd denies the truths proclaimed by Pilate. They deny Jesus’ humanity showing no sympathy for an innocent man, yet they embrace Barabbas, being sympathetic to a murderous thug.
Embrace the Pagan
In denying Jesus’ Kingship, the crowds embrace a pagan ruler who declares himself to be not only a king, but insists that he is also divine. In rejecting Jesus, they reject the dignity of what it means to be human and made in God’s image, they reject one of their own, they reject their identity as the Chosen People, they reject the promise of a King of David’s line, and they reject God as their true Ruler. Jealousy, hatred, and blood lust lead to the crowd rejecting all that it means to be Jewish.
What is Truth?
It is ironic that the very man who asks “What is truth?” proclaims the truth every time he says “Behold.” Likewise, it is ironic that the very people who have been entrusted with God’s truths deny them in response to Pilate proclaiming “Behold.” But He Who is Truth also says “Behold.” From the cross, Jesus addresses His mother saying “Woman, behold, your son.” Then He addresses St John saying “Behold, your mother.” Here Jesus is not just stating truths, He is creating truths. The beloved disciple is not related to Mary at all according to the flesh, but Jesus creates a spiritual relationship between them.
Indeed, if we are among Jesus' beloved disciples, isn't Mary as much our mother as she is John's mother? And if we are spiritual sons and daughters of Mary, then Jesus is our Brother. It is as if Pilate's “Behold the Man” becomes “Behold our Brother.”
Members of God’s Family
Through Jesus, we enter into a new relationship with God, not just being His people, not just subjects of his Kingdom, not just being his friends, but becoming members of God's own family. Such is the power of Jesus saying “Behold” from the cross. And such is the power of Jesus' suffering and death.
The Final Word
Indeed, Jesus' suffering and death mark the end of all suffering and death. Because of Jesus' suffering and death, the sufferings we endure and the deaths we shall undergo no longer have the final word. Now, sufferings united to Jesus' cross bring glory and death brings forth life eternal for those who truly love Jesus. Jesus has the final word, and that word is Behold.
He will Wipe every Tear
As we read in the book of Revelation, “[Jesus] will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’”.
So as we approach the cross tonight and give homage to the display of what Jesus has done for us, let us “Behold the Man”, let us “Behold our King”, let us behold the Truth, and let us behold his love, for his love makes all things new.
We need to behold with our eyes the miseries of this world; poverty, sickness, violence, natural calamities, war and other many ways that people of God suffer. They are crucified daily and shed their blood and tears for their loved ones. There is no turning away from the Cross in our daily lives, as Jesus told his disciples that those who would like to follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. This is very true indeed; we are never free from crosses in our lives.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada
Ex 12.1-8, 11-14; Ps 115 (116); I Cor 11.23-26; Jn 13.1-15
“Jesus Christ gave a Lasting Memorial”
One of his Catholic disciples asked the controversial god-man Osho Rajneesh about the difference between Buddha the founder of Buddhism and Jesus Christ. He told a story to distinguish between Buddha and Christ. When Buddha was on his death bed, his disciple Anand asked him for a memorial and Buddha gave him a Jasmine flower. But as the flower dried up, the memory of Buddha also dwindled. But Jesus Christ instituted a lasting memorial without anybody’s asking for it by offering his body and blood in the form of bread and wine and commanding his disciples to share his divinity by repeating the ceremony. So Jesus continues to live in his followers while Buddha lives only in history books. On Holy Thursday we are reflecting on the importance of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and priesthood. Osho Rajneesh claimed himself to be another incarnation of God who attained “enlightenment” at 29 when he was a professor of Hindu philosophy in Jabalpur University in India. He had thousands of followers for his controversial “liberation through sex theology” based on Hindu, Buddhist and Christian theology
“You don't Recognize me, do you?”
There is an old legend about Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper. In all of his paintings he tried to find someone to pose that fit the face of the particular character he was painting. Out of hundreds of possibilities he chose a young 19-year old to portray Jesus. It took him six months to paint the face of Jesus. Seven years later Da Vinci started hunting for just the right face for Judas. Where could he find one that would portray that image? He looked high and low. Down in a dark Roman dungeon he found a wretched, unkempt prisoner to strike the perfect pose. The prisoner was released to his care and when the portrait of Judas was complete the prisoner said to the great artist, "You don't recognize me, do you? I am the man you painted seven years ago as the face of Christ. O God, I have fallen so low."
The Last Supper
Tonight we enter into the most sacred holy days of our shared Christian tradition. From Thursday night to Sunday morning we are invited into the drama that is one of the mainstays of the world, one of the recurring themes of the universe. We are invited to watch it from the sidelines, or to stand up and enter into it ourselves – as much or as little as we can handle right now, this year, at this point in our lives.
And that drama is this. It has four parts.
Many of us go through our lives somewhat – or entirely – resistant. We resist things that are different, we resist new concepts, new food, new people, new places. We like what we know, we like our traditions, we like what is familiar and solid and dependable – and that’s fine. We can like, we can have preference, that’s fine. But when we resist as a knee jerk reaction instead of taking a moment to weigh and decide for ourselves if perhaps change is warranted in this particular situation – then we’re not being smart, we’re just being stubborn. We’re being… resistant.
Maundy Thursday invites us to embrace what is real, even if we don’t particularly like it. Depending on the gospel story, this is either the time that Jesus ate the Passover meal, and his final meal with his friends which we remember each time we have communion, or it is the time that Jesus, the teacher, bent down to his knees and acted as the slave and washed the feet of his disciples. Both stories required something of their first listeners, and of the people who figured in the stories themselves.
During dinner, Jesus had things that were difficult to say and difficult to hear, but they needed to be said. His disciples needed to remember, and they needed to accept.
Washing the Feet
Ordering his disciples to allow him to wash their feet was also hard for them to handle – it really was servant’s work, and they were appalled and humiliated on his behalf that Jesus would act in such a way. But that was his point, of which they were so resistant: Loving one another really is the most important thing, and that is how other people will recognize us – by our love. Still, it was hard for them to hear, and hard for them to do.
But that is Maundy Thursday, the first part of the drama. Non-resistance, or acceptance if you like.
All things die. All things end. This is a basic and fundamental truth of our Universe that we don’t particularly approve of. Instead we tell ourselves fairy tales of fountains of youth, and then we go and use Oil of Olay. We use euphemisms for death, like passed away, passed on, in a better place. But it’s not just people that die, it’s ideas, too, and civilizations, relationships, towns, religions, and vacuum cleaners. Things die. Things end. Life; and parts of life, draw to a close, and part of why it is so very, very, hard to deal with is because we haven’t yet accepted that it is part of the way the world works, independent of morality. Good people die, bad people die. Death is not a punishment for the wicked, nor is the death of a civilization or relationship or city punishment for sins. Things simply don’t last forever, and everything in this world comes to an end.
This is the second part of the drama we’re invited into. The first part is non-resistance, which is really helpful to master first, because the second part is death.
The third part is ritualized in the Easter Vigil, and it has no snappy name, except to say that it is the time between death and rebirth. It is the winter of the cycle where things seem to be dormant, and yet life continues on. And we are asked to continue to live, even when it feels like our hearts have been torn out. We are asked to continue paying the bills, even though our worlds will never be the same. We still have to eat and sleep and function, and we do, even though something important has just died, and we probably weren’t quite ready for it.
That is the third part of the drama – dormancy, might be a good way to think of it. So the first part is non-resistance, the second is death, and the third is dormancy.
Back to Life
This is the fourth part of the drama – the end, which will always ever circle back to the beginning again. And that is, rebirth in Christ and through Christ. We celebrate it on Easter Sunday, and every Sunday. It is the utter joy of something fresh and new, something vital and vigorous, like a sapling, or a baby, a new home, or a new hike, a new lease on life, or a new love… or a new hope for something better this time.
The Last Supper is the solemn occasion Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist reveals that our salvation begins with God, not ourselves. God offers Himself to man in Christ first. At the same time, as the summit of Christian spirituality, the Eucharist is man's supreme, grace-enabled, freely given offering of himself back to God through Jesus Christ, our high priest, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The union or intimate, personal fellowship between God and man realized through God's gift of Himself to man and man's faithful response, we call communion.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada
Palm Sunday Year: B
Is 50.4-7; Ps 21 (22); Phil 2.6-11; Mk 14.1-15.47
There is an old story about a preacher who was having problems and decided to leave the ministry. But he ran into trouble finding another job. Finally, in desperation, he took a job at the local zoo. The gorilla had died, and since it had been the children's favorite animal, the zoo officials decided to put someone in a gorilla costume until a real replacement could be found. To the minister's surprise, he liked the job. He enjoyed ministering to children as the donkey on Palm Sunday carried Jesus. He got lots of attention and could eat all he wanted. There was no stress no deadlines, complaints or committees. And he could take a nap anytime he wanted. One day he was feeling particularly frisky. So he began swinging on the trapeze. Higher and higher he went. But suddenly he lost his grip, flipped a couple of times, and landed in the next cage.
Stunned and dazed, he looked up and saw a ferocious lion. In his panic he forgot he was supposed to be a gorilla and yelled, "Help! Help!" That ferocious lion turned in his direction and said, "oh shut up, man, I'm a minister too." Unlike these gorilla and lion ministers, all of us are supposed to be donkey ministers by becoming donkey-givers like the man Jesus met long ago and who loaned his donkey to Jesus to ride as he entered Jerusalem for the last time. We become donkey-givers when we give something that promotes Jesus and his kingdom. Five hundred years from now, as we delight in the glory of God's kingdom, we will not even remember how much money we earned on earth or how big our houses were or whether we had much status or popularity. But we will celebrate forever every single donkey we gave to the Master in the form of little things we have done for others in Jesus’ name for God’s glory.
It has been estimated that some 2.5 million people were in or around Jerusalem for the Passover observance. Jesus was mounted on a donkey -- the beast that the prophet Zechariah of old predicted would bear the Messiah. The people were shouting "Hosanna" - "save us!" - the traditional cry of the Jewish people to their king. A crowd estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 lined the roadsides to cheer an itinerant preacher from Nazareth named Jesus. The palm branches and the shouts harkened back a century-and-a-half to the triumph of the Maccabees and the overthrow of the brutal Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In 167 B.C. Antiochus had precipitated a full-scale revolt when, having already forbidden the practice of Judaism on pain of death, he set up in the middle of the Jewish Temple, an altar to Zeus and sacrificed a pig on it. Stinging from this outrage, an old man of priestly stock named Mattathias rounded up his five sons, all the weapons he could find, and a guerrilla war was launched. Old Mattathias soon died, but his son Judas, called Maccabeus (which means "hammer"), kept on and within three years was able to cleanse and to rededicate the desecrated temple. "Mission Accomplished?" Well, it would be a full 20 years more of fighting, after Judas and a successor, his brother, Jonathan, had died in battle, that a third brother, Simon, would take over, and, through his diplomacy, achieve Judean independence. That would begin a century of Jewish sovereignty. Of course, there was great celebration. "On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel"(I Maccabees 13.51). So says the account in I Maccabees - a story as well known to the crowd in Jerusalem that day.
It is often questioned why Palm Sunday is also the Sunday of the Passion. What starts off as what is sometimes called the “Triumphal Entry” to Jerusalem at the beginning of the Liturgy seems to race all the way forward to Good Friday by the end of the liturgy of the Word.
The stock answer, of course, is that it’s because so few people make it their business to go to church on Good Friday to hear Saint John’s Passion. This way at least a Passion narrative is read and heard by those who only come on Sundays.
Gospel of Mark
It has also been observed that Mark, which is our gospel for Year: B, can be viewed primarily as a Passion narrative with an extended introduction. That is, to understand Mark at all, one must look at the cross. The whole narrative in Mark moves us toward the cross. As one reads the full version of the Passion, we immediately sense how the Passion events seem to play themselves out in horrifying slow motion.
The Inevitability of the Cross
As much as we would like to have Jesus not go to Gethsemane, as much as we might wish to stop Judas, as much as we would like to get after Peter for his three denials of Jesus, in Mark, the cross is not to be avoided. As we will see and hear on Easter, even the young man sitting in the empty tomb will say, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who has been crucified. He was raised.” For Mark, Jesus is the Crucified One more than the Risen One.
Also, on this question of why the Passion seemingly intrudes upon Palm Sunday – “It never did when we were younger!” the people cry – it is the Passion that places the entry into Jerusalem in some sort of understandable context.
We may as well face it, Jesus and his rag-tag parade of the poor, the halt and the lame, sinners and outcasts, and he himself riding into town not on regal horseback but on a pathetic little donkey, does not a particularly triumphal entry make. It is at best, in the midst of Passover, Jerusalem’s busiest week of the year, it was an annoying little demonstration that symbolically challenged the occupation of Rome and the authority of the religious professionals, the Pharisees, the priests, and the Herodians.
We are to remember that all the way back in Chapter 3 of Mark, we read, “the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” The Herodians were those Jews who were already conspiring with the ruling party of the successive Herods, who in turn were in a political alliance with Rome. They were considered by the people to be collaborators with the occupying enemy, Rome.
That is, we must recognize that the little demonstration we call Palm Sunday was, in at least one dimension, a political demonstration. Taken together with the next event in Mark, which is the episode at the Temple with the animals and money changers, it is easy to see how once word got to Pilate, whose primary responsibility was to maintain public order, something would have to be done to calm things down so that the Passover celebration could come off without any further disruption.
Freedom from Rome
Also, given the fact that people in the streets wanted nothing more than to get rid of the yoke of Rome, Barabbas – which curiously translates as “son of the father” – a known insurrectionist, becomes a more attractive captive to liberate since he at least was willing to take to the streets and kill as many Romans and collaborators as necessary to inspire some sort of wider scale insurrection or civil war.
The key to this whole story very well may be that Jesus refuses to fight the pain that has been inflicted on him by inflicting pain. He refuses to overcome injustice with an easy, optimistic plan for progress. He refuses to fight back against the shame poured out upon him by a mighty, flashy display of Rome’s imperial power: crucifixion.
We speak of a service economy, and businesses looking eager to “serve” the public. But such service comes of self-interest. It is not service in terms of laying down one’s life for the customers’ sake, but rather it is service intended to impress – like Pilate, whom we are told wished “to please the crowd.” Jesus does not serve to impress or please, to win the favor and sympathy of those whom he helps, let alone those whom he confronts. Jesus is the chosen one of God who has displayed his power over demons and disease, who chose to serve and refused to avoid suffering and even death on a cross.
All those things that we decry as the power of sin in our world and in our lives, even death itself, will not be overcome by force. They will only be overcome by the service and ransom of the very one, the only one, who needs neither to serve nor to pay off any debt.
Could this have been done any other way? Perhaps it could have, if we could live lives without suffering and sin and death; which, of course, is another way of saying, “No.”
What we see in Mark’s version of this narrative is a Jesus who does not so much defeat death but rather refuses to avoid it. His forsaken cry from the cross should not be tempered into anything but a true cry of desperation that echoes the truth of the pains we experience in our lives – individually, as well as collectively as the church, as a community, and as a nation.
Defeat of Sin and Defeat of Death
Make no mistake about it, this entire narrative takes place within the context of an international military and political occupation and conflict. Jesus rises above the petty political, religious, and military background noise. He literally is raised above it all on the cross. He defeats sin through bearing sin. He defeats death by dying on a cross.
In Christ crucified we begin to experience authentic life. Such life is not easy in a world still mad with power and prestige, a world that wants to sell a path of service to others as a commodity to be purchased rather than as a life lived like Jesus lived his. It’s a good thing the good news can only be given away!
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Canada - Vancouver
Palm Sunday - Year B - Mark 14:1-15:47
5th Sunday Of Lent - Year B - John 12:20-33
5th Sunday in Lent Year: B Jer 31.31-34; Ps 50(51); Heb 5.7-9; Jn 12.20-33
You are My Life
There was a boy in India who was sent by his parents to a boarding school. Before being sent away this boy was the brightest student in his class. He was at the top in every competition. He was a champion.
But the boy changed after leaving home and attending the boarding school. His grades started dropping. He hated being in a group. He was lonely all the time. And there were especially dark times when he felt like committing suicide. All of this because he felt worthless and that no one loved him.
His parents started worrying about the boy. But even they did not know what was wrong with him. So his dad decided to travel to the boarding school and talk with him.
They sat on the bank of the lake near the school. The father started asking him casual questions about his classes, teachers and sports. After some time his dad said, 'Do you know son, why I am here today?"
The boy answered back, "to check my grades?"
"No, no" his dad replied, "I am here to tell you that you are the most important person for me. I want to see you happy. I don't care about grades. I care about you. I care about your happiness. YOU ARE MY LIFE."
These words caused the boy's eyes to fill with tears. He hugged his dad. They didn't say anything to each other for a long time.
Now the boy had everything he wanted. He knew there was someone on this earth who cared for him deeply. He meant the world to someone. And today this young man is in college at the top of his class and no one has ever seen him sad! Thanks a lot dad. YOU ARE MY LIFE.
What Was Jesus’ Passion?
Today is Passion Sunday. A week before Palm Sunday our readings focus on the passion of Jesus. What was Jesus passion? What was the driving force in his life? What was Jesus passionate about? Intense about? Animated over? What gave him sleepless nights? What did he wrestle over in prayer? Let’s find out. I want you to look at John 12.20-33 and notice three aspects to Jesus passion.
The Timing of the Cross (v 23)
Two keys words here - glory and hour. Glory first. This is not the glory of fame but the glory of shame. Not the glory of popularity but the glory of isolation. Glory because it was for us, because it was instead of us. Jesus knew that before the war would be over he must be taken captive. He knew that before victory would come defeat. He knew that before the throne would come the cup. He knew that before the light of Sunday, there must be the darkness of Friday. Before his ascension into heaven there must be a descent into hell. At the very moment when the crowds of people were cheering, smiling and waving their palm branches on Palm Sunday, Jesus was in agony. On the hill side half way down the Mount of Olives is the chapel known as Dominus Flevit. It’s the place where the Lord wept. It is a favourite spot in all of Palestine.
Why was Jesus in agony? This was his glory. His hour. The hour to which every word and every act in Scripture pointed. Jesus was in agony because he knew from eternity past that this was indeed the time for the Cross. His passion announced.
The Necessity of the Cross (v 24-26)
Each little grain of wheat has a hard, glossy husk, within which its life is contained. But if it falls into the ground then its husk softens and rots and breaks open. From inside the seed the power of its life begins to push outwards. The pattern of its life begins to unfold. Roots go down into the soil. A shoot comes up into the light where it grows stronger and taller and produces a single ear of corn. By harvest time there will be forty seeds where before there was only one. Next year if those forty seeds all fall on good soil they will produce sixteen hundred seeds. In the third year sixty-four thousand. In the fourth year over two and a half million. But only if that first seed falls to the ground and dies. So it is that Jesus offers bread to the whole world. He offers himself, his life, to come alive in hundreds, then thousands, then millions of others. But first he must die.
And if we his followers wish to pass on his life then we too must learn the pattern of life. We will bear fruit only when we die to self. God has given each one of us a passion. A unique combination of personality, experience and spiritual gifting. Therefore our place of service in the church is unique and irreplaceable.
The Purpose of the Cross (v 27-33)
Martin Luther said once, "No one ever feared death as much as this man." The Son was troubled and Heaven answered. God in heaven could not keep silence; Heaven answered the Son's prayer with an articulate voice. It was agony for Jesus to do the will of his Father. It was agony for Jesus to bring glory to his Father. It was agony for Jesus to drive out the prince of this world. It was agony for Jesus to draw all men to himself. But there was no other way. No other way. When you come face to face with a person in difficulty remind yourself of this picture.
The Seed Must Die
Christians are not protected from pain. We have no insurance policy against agony. Sorrow can burn up a great deal of shallowness or it can lead to bitterness. It all depends on our perspective; it all depends on our motive. Jesus was not saved from the hour. He was saved for it. And so are we. One of my favourite books in the Old Testament is Esther. It might be subtitled, "For such a time as this." It comes from the scene where Esther's life is at stake. She must plead for the life of her people before her husband the king. But for anyone including her to enter his presence unannounced could mean instant execution. Just as she was wavering, Mordecai reminds her,
"If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4.14)
This was Jesus hour. The Greek word for judgment means crisis or discrimination. Now was the moment of crisis. The decision day but the world today prefers to be inoffensively neutral. It does not like having to decide.
How different with Jesus. It was judgment time. The Judge was about to take their just upon Himself. Jesus was going to do three things simultaneously by his death.
Jesus was making a decision that changed the course of history for the entire universe. The hour of his destiny and of his death would be like a flash of lightening suddenly illuminating the whole cosmos with God's love.
When Joan of Arc knew that she had been betrayed and was to be burnt at the stake by the leaders of her own people, as George Bernard Shaw has it in his play, she turns to them and says, "I will go out to the common people, and let the love in their eyes comfort me for the hate in yours. You will be glad to see me burnt; but if I go through the fire I shall go through it to their hearts forever and ever."
Jesus said “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
Christians are not protected from pain. We have no insurance policy against agony. Sorrow can burn up a great deal of shallowness or it can lead to bitterness. It all depends on our perspective; it all depends on our motive. Jesus was not saved from the hour. He was saved for it. And so are we.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD
Vancouver - Canada
Sunday Mass with Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza - For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. [ March 11 2018 ]
Sunday Mass with Fr. Rudolf V. D'Souza - For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. [ March 11 2018 ]
4th Sunday of Lent Year B
II Chronicles 36.14-17a; 19-23; Psalm 137;
Ephesians 2.4-10; John 3.14-21
The scene of the brazen serpent (in Numbers 21:4-9) immediately makes me recall the serpent in the Garden of Eden. That the Israelites were punished for their thanklessness with deadly biting serpents, and then forced to look upon the image of another serpent to find a cure, makes me think that God was trying to get the Israelites to remember what had transpired in Eden. However, scholarship and archaeology tells us that serpent images were used in ancient Israel, during the time of the unified monarchy, as a symbol of fertility, and that similar images were used in ancient Egypt as a talisman to repel living snakes.
That the Israelites had recently evacuated Egypt, what we may have here is a recollection of Egyptian practice. They were going to ward off the snakes in the same way as their captor Egyptians had done.
If one were going to preach on the brazen serpent, I think this would be a decent place to start—or at least have in the back of one’s mind.
However, when this scene is referenced in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, I don’t think this that this is what Jesus had in mind at all. It has nothing to do with fertility, Egyptian practice, or even the history of the Exodus. It seems that the brazen serpent is used here to speak about Jesus’ crucifixion in two ways:
- As a way to highlight the crucifixion as a “lifting up,”. Jesus the Son of God will be lifted up means that he will be exalted and every knee shall bow before him and every power in the world and in the heaven will confess that Jesus is the Lord.
- and as a way to say that the passion of Christ provides a remedy, and the promise of life. Jesus came to give life in abundance and he is life itself. Without him nothing was created.
Unlike the synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel presents the crucifixion not as an event of horror and humiliation, but as exaltation. There are no great drops of sweat. No crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
No, in John it’s an enthronement. It’s the moment of coronation where Jesus’ kingship is fulfilled and proclaimed.
And, in this moment, Jesus is lifted high for everyone to behold. In the words of Simeon in the Gospel of Luke: “My eyes have seen the savior whom you have prepared for all the world to see; a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people, Israel.”
But, the event of the cross isn’t just an advertisement, or a show. It actually does something. The cross is effectual.
Just like when the Israelites looked at the brazen serpent they were able to be healed, the cross has the power to heal and give life too. But, according to John, gazing upon it isn’t enough.
You need to have faith. You need to be moved to believe. Which is, of course, what the entire third chapter of John is all about.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
This conversation that begins with Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night becomes a sermon on the reign of God which is made manifest on Calvary, and what the reign of God calls us to be in response: people of faith. Not like the Israelites in the wilderness, complaining that the manna was bland—but people feasting on the manna that God provides with thankfulness and faithful recognition of Our King.
We need to confess that Jesus is Lord
We need to believe in his power to heal and restore
We need to be in touch with Jesus every moment of the day
Let us not think that we can save ourselves through our good deeds. We cannot save ourselves. We need the power of Jesus to save us and that power we have received in Baptism. We have become sons and daughter of God through Jesus our brother.
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD