This week's Lenten reflection is the next part of Chris Stefanick's Lenten video series. Chris explores how we define ourselves in the video below.
In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, John 3:14-21, Jesus describes his saving work with a rather strange comparison: he compares himself to a symbolic bronze snake!
Jesus was referring to an event in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9). During their journey from Egypt to the Holy Land, God’s people were afflicted with deadly snake bites. No fun. God told Moses the cure. He was to make a bronze serpent, set it on a pole, and anyone who’d been bitten who looked at the sculpture would be healed. That symbol of death became the source of life for people dying from venomous snake bites.
This event was a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do for us on the cross, and how he’d save us from the “venom” of sin. On the cross, Jesus became the image of just how painful and ugly our sin, death, and brokenness is. At the same time, he made the cross the sign of life. And we find our healing by fixing our eyes on him.
Our gut instinct when we encounter some sin, suffering, or dysfunction in our own lives is to look within ourselves for the answer. We seem to have an endless dialogue with that “voice” in our heads about our problems. But while some degree of self-reflection is good, the Israelites didn’t find healing by staring at their snake bites, and we won’t find the answer to our problems by an endless dwelling on self or circumstance. We find it in Jesus.
In the words of St. Pope John Paul II, “When you wonder about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ, who gives you the meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person, look to Christ, who is the fullness of humanity. And when you wonder about your role in the future of the world look to Christ.”
But how do we get out our heads and look to Christ? What does that even mean? I have two ideas for you:
1. When you pray, start with worship. Sometimes when you pray, you tend to focus on lifting up all of the things you need to God. I know you do this, because I do it too. But if that’s the foundation of how you interact with God, you might end up more stressed than when you started because you sat in the presence of your problems and forgot the greatness of God. Praise turns us outside of ourselves and puts our eyes on him first. Praise and worship isn’t complex. Try reciting the gloria from Mass, or your favorite worship song to God. Or simply spend a minute in prayer breathing in “Lord Jesus Christ” and breathing out “I praise you for your glory!”
2. Serve someone in need. On some mystical level, Jesus is in them (check out Matthew 25:34-40). Sometimes the best thing you can do to fix your own unhappiness is focus on the needs of people around you. It isn’t hard to find opportunities to help the materially poor (and it’s worth noting that Jesus warned us about the fires of hell in connection to a failure to help the poor more than anything else!). It might just open your eyes to the needs all around you. A family member starving for your attention. A lonely neighbor who needs a conversation. An elderly person down the street who needs a driveway shoveled, or just some interaction. When we live lives turned outside ourselves, it ends up healing us.
Lent. It's what Jesus does.
Let's do it with him.