On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, as we reach the mid-point of this sacred season, the Church interrupts its penitential tone to introduce a new word "rejoice" in the entrance antiphon (eliminated when the verse is sung). The Latin word for "rejoice", laetare is the source of the day being known as Laetare Sunday. Remember we interrupted the preparation for the birth of Christ mid-way through Advent when another Latin word "gaudete" which also means "rejoice" set a joyful tone as we prepared for Christmas.
One task early Christian preachers faced was to explain to prospective Jewish converts how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus. One way was to show how key Old Testament persons and events pointed to key New Testament persons and events.. In his First Letter to the Corinthians Paul compares Adam to Jesus: "The first man, Adam, was created as a living being, but the last Adam (Jesus) is the life-giving spirit.. The first Adam, made of earth, came from the earth; the second Adam (Jesus) came from heaven."
In the Gospel this week Jesus draws another parallel between the Old Testament and the New Testament when he says: "As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the desert, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life"
The Old Testament event Jesus has in mind is the one described in the book of Numbers where the Israelites are complaining bitterly to Moses and to God about the troubles they're having in the desert. Following their complaints, snakes appear and attack the people. When this happened the people cry out to Moses, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Now pray to the Lord to take these snakes away". So Moses prayed for the people ...then the Lord told Moses to make a metal snake and put it on a pole so that anyone bitten could look at it and be healed and Moses did this and anyone who had been bitten would look at it and be healed. The medical profession chose this image of the snake coiled about a pole as the symbol for its healing profession.
And there is another well-known scripture verse in today's liturgy, that of John 3:16 which is the gospel acclamation. "God so loved the world that he gave is only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." This verse, along with the following, John 3:17; "God did not send his Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its savior." has been called a summary of the Bible.
Fr John R. Mulvehill