Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent



So Jesus said to them,
"When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.

 

Yesterday we saw the Lord stoop down to save the woman caught in adultery. In the following chapter (John 8) and today’s reading we learn how the Son of Man must be lifted up. He does this in obedience to the Father.

There is much to reflect on here. First we should know that Jesus has given God an entirely new name. There are suggestions of God’s fatherhood in the Old Testament but other names predominate. Christians have learned to approach God as a child approaches a friendly, generous and wise father. Whatever experience we may have of our earthly fathers, we learn that Jesus’ father is the father of all. As Saint Paul said, he is the one from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. He is the compassionate and merciful father who stoops to rescue the woman caught in adultery, regardless of her merits.

Jesus gives us as adopted children the title of God’s children. We might claim this status as human beings because he is the father of all creation but that claim pales before the privilege of baptism, by which we become children of God. Jesus has such authority because he is not a creature of God but the uncreated, Only Begotten Son. So the title of Father indicates three different relationships: over creation, over Christians and of the Son. Our privilege is the second.

Christians should have been offended when, in the movie O God, George Burns suggested that Jesus’ sonship was a relative thing, like that of the Buddha or Muhammad or any Tom, Dick or Harry. That kind of son cannot save us.

But “you will realize that I am” only when you see the Son of Man lifted up. This is revelation; we could not have figured it out on our own. Some people might have seen 9/11 coming, or the economic collapse of 2008, but no one could imagine that the Son of God would stoop down from heaven to be lifted up on a cross. It is still beyond our comprehension. As we sing at Easter, Who would believe what we have seen?

Finally, in today’s gospel, we learn that Jesus does nothing on his own, but only what the Father taught him. Once again we see the humility of God. The Church has long insisted there is no superiority in God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit each demonstrate a profound reverence for one another. Though the Father is prior to,  and begets, the Son he is not superior. And, despite the Father’s humility, the Son obeys him.

The Trinity teaches us the meaning of authority; it is always for service, and never for oneself. Like the doctrine itself, we would never have known this if it were not revealed to us. Democracy is founded on this principle of service to others, and can survive only among those who believe in the Trinity.

 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.