Tuesday March 30, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading (Numbers 21:4-9) Gospel (St. John 8:21-30)
Our Lord, in the Gospel reading today, tells us that we will die in our sins unless we come to believe that He is I AM, that is, that He is Yahweh, that He is God. When the people ask Him, “Who are you then?” He says, “What I have been telling you from the beginning,” once again making very clear to them Who He truly is, because the only one who was in the beginning was God and the One Who spoke to them from the very beginning is the One Who wrote the Bible. The Jewish people, of course, knew and believed that the Scriptures were divinely inspired; so it was not a matter that Moses wrote them, but rather Moses wrote down the words that were inspired by God. And so in the same context, when Our Lord tells us that He does nothing except what He has heard from the Father, it is the exact same point. Moses did not write down anything other than what he heard, and Jesus, Who is the Word – not merely the written Word, but the living Word, the Word that was made flesh to dwell among us – He has done nothing other than what He heard from the Father, and He is the One Who is the Word written about in Scripture. But the people still did not understand, and Our Lord reiterated again when they would come to believe. When you have lifted up the Son of Man from the earth, then you will believe that I AM, He told them.
For us, it is the only way. We recall the high priest taunting Our Lord and saying, “Come down from that cross and we will believe!” But it is exactly the opposite because He tells us that He does not belong to this world. Why would He come down from the Cross so that He could once again place His feet upon this earth when this is not where He is from and it is not what He is about? It is only when He is lifted up, as He was lifted up three times. He was lifted up from the earth when we hung Him on the Cross. He was lifted up from the earth when He rose from the dead. And He was lifted up a third time when He ascended into heaven. Each time it was when He rose above this world to demonstrate that He is not of this world. But still people did not understand; they did not believe.
But we need simply to ask the question within our own hearts if we believe. After all, we see, for instance, in the Old Testament reading, the people grumbling and complaining against God. So God sends the seraph serpents among the people to bite them. And rather than just simply taking the serpents away, rather than just simply healing the people as God certainly had the power to do, He has Moses make a bronze serpent so the people have to look at the serpent. The serpents were still among them and they still got bit, but they had to look at this serpent upon a pole in order to remind them that it was God Himself Who was going to heal them, to remind them of all their grumbling and complaining, and that if they were really going to have faith in God as they claimed to have that they needed to stop grumbling and complaining and begin to believe.
What about us? How much do we grumble and complain against God? When it does not go our way, when we think things ought to be different, when we do not like what is happening in our life very well, the first thing we do is grumble and complain. And so the Lord tells us, “In the midst of your suffering, rather than taking it away, I’m going to make you look upon the One Who will relieve you of your suffering.” You are going to have to look at the Cross and see Our Lord in the midst of His agony, and then ask, “Do we really have anything to complain about?” When He is lifted up from the earth, then we will believe that He is I AM – but only when we look at the Cross, only when we look beyond what is of earth and recognize that He is not of this world and that we are not called to be of this world either, that we too are to be elevated above this world to live for the next, which means to accept our share in the suffering but to recognize the good that can come out of it, to be able to see and understand that this unites us with the suffering of Christ and raises us up so that we will be able to live for the next world.
So if we truly recognize Who He is – the One Who has spoken to us truly from the beginning, the Word spoken by the Father from the beginning in the silence of eternity, the Word written of in Scripture, the Word Who became flesh, the One Who is raised up so that we would believe – in the midst of our suffering, look upon the One Who is on the Cross and believe that He is I AM.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.