In today’s Scripture readings we have an example of the early Church trying to explain the meaning of Jesus’ terrible death. At the time of Jesus death his disciples fled in fear and hid themselves. Crucifixion was Rome’s response to a capital crime. Jesus was accused of rebelling against Rome. Crucifixion was the response… to rob Jesus of his personhood and dignity, to beat him and march him thru the streets as a criminal… to hang him from a cross at a crossroads, outside the walls of Jerusalem. To make fun of him – a king mounted on a gibbet.
Come down from that Cross if you are God’s son as you claim. You don’t look like God’s son now!
Jesus’ mission seemed a total failure. Jesus was a flop. A few lonely women stayed with him til the ignominious end… and they wept.
We call this Good Friday now. To Jesus family and followers and disciples it was a terrible Friday.
In trying to explain this after Resurrection Sunday, the early Church looked into the writings of God’s Jewish people… they looked for stories to help understand what happened. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus arguing with his enemies – an argument which would end up with Jesus on Calvary, nailed to a tree. Notice what Jesus says: …
…When you lift up the Son of man, then you will realize that I AM… (Jn 8:29)
As the early Church looked into the Jewish writings they came across the story of today’s first reading… Numbers 21:4-9.
God’s people were complaining against Moses and God, not trusting loving God, becoming angry and disgusted… and God sent saraph serpents which bit them and they died. The people repented and God told Moses…
… ‘Make a saraph 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 recovered. (Numbers 4:9)
This was one of the images in the Jewish writings used to describe the meaning of Christ on the Cross. All of us have sinned. We now look upon Christ on the Cross, bearing our sins… our brother bearing our burden, our Shepherd suffering for us… our King mounted on the Cross, robed with his own blood… when we gaze upon Jesus… we who are sinners will be saved.
Another example of using an image from the Jewish writings we will see on Good Friday… the suffering servant who dies for the people… Isaias 52:13 – 53:12. Notice 53:11…
…Through his suffering my servant will justify many and their guilt he shall bear.
Through these and other passages the Church grew to understand that the Cross of Christ was ‘according to the Scriptures’, according to God’s loving plan. As St. Paul of the Cross preached: The Passion of Christ is an ocean of God’s love.
-Fr. Don Ware