Monday, April 03, 2017

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Optional Memorial for Saint Isidore, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
“Christ Holds the Cross” by El Greco 1602-07
During the Fifth Week of Lent (especially in cycles B and C when the Gospel of Lazarus is not read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent) optional Mass Texts are offered.
Reading I: Numbers 21:4-9
Commentary on Nm 21:4-9
The people were growing tired of the food, probably manna, and complained bitterly. They believed that iIn doing so they failed to love God and sinned against him. In punishment serpents were sent to afflict them. There is great symbolism in the final paragraph as Moses makes the bronze serpent: “If anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover. “and "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting" (John 3:14-15).[4]
CCC: Nm 21:4-9 2130
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21
R. (2) O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
Commentary on Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21
Psalm 102 is an individual lament. In this selection we find the cry of the people in the desert once more being directed to the Lord. The song proposes a covenant: If you hear our plea, we will revere your name.
Gospel: John 8:21-30
Commentary on Jn 8:21-30
Jesus continues his discourse with the Pharisees, trying to lead them to understanding. He tells them that he is going away, clearly implying his own death, and tells them they may not follow him. Their unbelief is sin and hence they will die in their sin. They do not understand the manner of his death (that he will lay his life down) but rather see a partial truth in thinking he will kill himself.
Even though he uses language filled with specific clues (e.g. the use of the phrase “I Am”, God’s own designation for himself) they still do not understand. Toward the end he alludes to the saraph image from Numbers: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I Am,” and at the same time makes it clear whose Son he is.
CCC: Jn 8:28 211, 653, 2812; Jn 8:29 603, 1693, 2824, 2825
In the Gospel, Jesus is clearly getting a bit frustrated with the Hebrew leadership for not being able to understand who he is (even though he uses the Hebrew formula for God: “I AM,” referring to himself on a couple of occasions).  We, his modern day disciples, see the meaning clearly in his statements and understand he is truly the Son of God.
Frustration and impatience also play a role in the first readings.  This time however, it is the Hebrew people being led out of Egypt.  From a practical standpoint, the reading from Numbers should speak to us today.  How often have we fallen into the role of the Hebrews in the story about the saraph serpents?  How frequently have we heard ourselves complaining: why did God let that happen? Or, why did God put me in this situation? 
It’s the “blessing and curse” opposition of a covenant relationship.  God made us in his own image and likeness.  In doing so he gave all mankind (the good and the bad) free will.  He gave us the freedom to make choices, good and bad, and placed us in a world full of people with that same ability.  What he did not do was make us slaves to him as he so easily could have done.  That would have been absolutely necessary if all of our choices in life would lead us to happy outcomes all of the time.
So, bad things happen.  They usually happen because we make bad decisions and put ourselves in situations where the outcomes are not positive.  They happen because the people around us make bad decisions, perhaps not for themselves. Look, for example, at executives who decide they need to reduce labor costs and lay people off so they can make their profit numbers and get their bonus, so shareholders can make the money they expect on their investments.  For the executive it was a good decision, for the people who invested their 401k money in the company it was a good thing.  For the worker who no longer has an income, it might seem that God had dealt them an unfair blow.
Recognizing that there is evil in the world and that God has given us the ability to choose between good and evil, we must also look at situations in which we feel frustrated or unjustly treated by God. We need to ask: who really put us there? God is there for us.  He sent his Son to us to give us hope and peace.  We only need to reach out to him, to believe he is I AM, and we find that salvation and peace. 

[1] The picture used is “Christ Holds the Cross” by El Greco 1602-07
[4] See NAB Footnote on Numbers 21: 4ff

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