Christ Trampled Down Death by Death

(c) Ricardo Reitmeyer / Getty Images

(c) Ricardo Reitmeyer / Getty Images

Both readings at Mass today, Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Lent, offer a paradox.  For Christians with the eyes of faith, paradoxes are not problems to be solved but mysteries to be appreciated.  Today's readings call us to appreciate God's love in a deeper way.

In the First Reading (Numbers 21: 4-9) saraph serpents bring death to the Israelites and Moses is told to "make a saraph and mount it on a pole" so that "whoever looks at it after being bitten will live." The cause of death became the source of healing. A paradox.  

This anticipates what we will remember and celebrate next week.  At the Easter Vigil, in the Exultet hymn, we will hear that Adam's sin was "necessary" because it won for us such a great Redeemer. It's a "culpa felix" or "happy fault."  Paul repeats this paradox in 2 Corinthians 5: 21: "For our sake, God made him [Christ] to be sin who did not know sin...."  And, in Galatians 3: 13, he writes: "Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us...."  Jesus suffered and died as a criminal to bring righteousness to sinners.  

Even more, he overcame death by means of death.  Throughout Easter, Eastern Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, sing: "Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and to those in the tomb restoring life."  

In the Gospel (John 8: 21-30) we find another paradox.  Jesus declares: "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM...."  You would think just the opposite!  How can you see the One whom Jesus refers to by the unpronounceable Divine Name--God--in a crucified criminal?  Only with the eyes of faith.

On the cross we see the greatest act of love the world has ever known.  And, since, according to the First Letter of John (4: 8 and 16), God is Love, God is revealed most clearly on the cross. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, we are called to believe: here is God, here is Love in the flesh!