Nm 21:4-9; Ps 2:2-3,16-21; Jn 8:21-30: If we prayed this way all through the day, “O LORD, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you,” we would grow daily more aware of his presence. As his enemies became more and more bold in challenging him in public, the Lord Jesus prayed with the words of our psalm. He used inspired human language to offer his human emotions and experience to the Father. More than once, the escaped slaves in the desert prayed with the desperation of the psalm, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?” If this season of Lent teaches us anything about prayer, if the psalms teach have anything to offer our prayer life, it is honesty. Praying with disarming and even startling honesty is the only way to approach the LORD. Have we ever heard this prayer arise from the depths of our hearts, “Hide not your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; in the day when I call, answer me speedily?” Such a bold petition, dare we speak? Do we trust the LORD will love us enough to respond to our groaning, complaining, and urgency? Do we trust the LORD to respond to the prayer of the destitute and not despise our fearful cry? Again and again, throughout the history of his people Israel and his new people the Church, the LORD has appeared in his glory and saved us. Indeed, our writing will also be read down through the ages, and generations yet to come will praise the LORD. They will thank him with us and for us because he has looked down from his holy height and beheld us in all our suffering, and He has lifted us on high with his crucified and risen Son, Jesus the Christ.
Notice how the LORD answered Moses and the people. He did not take away the saraph serpents, but he did answer their prayer. Moses was commanded, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.” Not only did the serpents remain, they continued to bite the complainers. The complaint of those whose patience is worn out from the journey back at the time of the exodus from Egypt is the same complaint during our own time in history. We, too, are worn out and quite doubtful. Has the voice from a burning bush brought us out into the desert to burn us up so that we die from lack of water and food? Is this divine voice a demonic voice? Is Moses confused and conflicted? Even the manna that has come down from heaven has become disgusting. What kind of liberation and support is this? Like our ancestors, we too, are ready to turn around and go back to Egypt, that place of slavery. The forgetfulness of slavery sometimes appears attractive. Sometimes we think it would be a lot more comfortable to be powerless and oppressed than to be responsible and decisive. The saraph lifted up before our eyes in this journey of Lent is Christ himself lifted-up on the cross. If we gaze upon him then we will remember and rejoice in our liberation and in our daily bread. After gazing upon the face of the one who does not hide his hideous appearance, we will see not the ugliness of violence and hatred. We will see the beauty of love and obedience. A beauty that alone has the power to transform us from glory to glory.
Why did many come to believe in him? Perhaps the many believed because the Pharisees did not believe. Why did the Pharisees resist the Lord Jesus with such strength? They completely misunderstood the Lord. They even thought he was going to kill himself because he said, “Where I am going you cannot come.” Indeed, only those who trust the Father the way Jesus trusted the Father will be able to go where the Lord Jesus has gone. The Pharisees did not believe in the Lord Jesus because they belonged to this world, and the Lord Jesus does not belong to this world. This world with all its attractions and promises has nothing to offer save despair and death. Life without end is meaningless. The life that ends with Christ on the cross and in the resurrection is true and eternal life. Eternal life with Christ in the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is joy beyond all expression. The Lord Jesus has come to reveal that he is the true burning bush though on fire, it is not consumed. Though he is caught up in the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus is not diminished in the least. Though he gives himself to the clueless disciples by washing their feet, the Lord Jesus is the King of Glory. Though he pours himself out upon the altar of the cross giving every last drop of blood and water, the Lord Jesus continues to nourish us with the miracle of the loaves and the leftovers. Indeed, the Lord Jesus in every Eucharist teaches us what the Father has taught him. The only way to please the Father is to live and die as Christ lives and dies, in complete trust. We live to die in loving service trusting that the one who has sent us will lift us high upon the cross with his Son in the resurrection and to the throne of glory.