Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare (Rejoice) Sunday, from the first words of the day’s liturgy [the Introit]. Since Lætare Sunday occurs in the middle of Lent, as Gaudete Sunday is celebrated midway through Advent, Lætare Sunday reminds us of the Event we look forward to at the end of the penitential season. As on Gaudete Sunday, rose-colored vestments may replace violet and flowers may grace the altar. These outward signs symbolize the Church’s joy in anticipation of the Resurrection, a joy which cannot be contained even in Lent, though we still refrain from Alleluias and the singing of the Gloria until the magnificence of the Easter Vigil. The central theme of today’s readings is that our salvation is the free gift of a merciful God given to us through Jesus, His, Son. One job early Christian preachers, among them Jewish Christian preachers, had was to explain to prospective Jewish converts how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. One way they did this was to show how key Old Testament persons and events pointed to key New Testament persons and events. For example, they showed how Abraham’s son, Isaac, pointed to Jesus. Isaac was an only son, as Jesus was. Isaac was deeply loved, as Jesus was. Isaac was given for sacrifice, as Jesus was. Isaac was to be offered on a hill, as Jesus was. Isaac carried the sacrifice wood, as Jesus did.
Paul makes similar comparisons between the Old Testament and the New Testament. For example, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul compares Adam and Jesus. He writes: “The first man, Adam, became a living being, the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit…The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man (Jesus), from Heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).
In today’s gospel, Jesus draws yet another parallel between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He says: “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.” The Old Testament event Jesus has in mind is the one described in the Book of Numbers. It’s where the Israelite’s are complaining bitterly to God and to Moses about the troubles they’re having in the desert. Following their complaint, snakes appear and attack the people. When this happens, the people cry out to Moses: “We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray the Lord to take the serpents (snakes) away from us…So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.’ Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent.” (Numbers 21:7-9) (The medical profession chose the image of the snake coiled about a pole as the symbol for its healing profession.)
Jesus parallels this Old Testament event to his crucifixion on Calvary. He explains that whoever looks upon him, with faith, will be healed spiritually, just as the Israelite’s were healed when they looked upon the coiled snake. “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
And so today’s gospel is a rich one. First it contains a beautiful summary of the Bible. Second, it contains a beautiful illustration of how the Old Testament and the New Testament fit together. Finally, it illustrates how Jesus is our lifeline as we pass from earth to heaven, just as the umbilical cord is the astronauts’ lifeline as they pass from one space capsule to another. In other words, just as the umbilical cord supplies the astronauts with life-giving oxygen, so Jesus supplies us with life-giving grace. The crucifix – the symbol of the “lifted up” Jesus – holds a central place in our Churches because it is a forceful reminder not only of God’s love and mercy, but also of the price of our salvation. So that, no Christian home should be without this symbol of God’s love. The crucifix invites us to respond with more than compassion; it inspires us to bear with the suffering of other people’s misery. It encourages us not only to feel deep sorrow for another’s sufferings, but also to try our best to remove that suffering. Hence, let us love the cross, wear its image and carry our own daily cross with joy.
God Bless You,