The scribes and Pharisees sat on the seat of Moses, inheritors of his authority over the People of God, but didn’t give the example that they should (cf. Matthew 23:1–3). What a great contrast between Moses and the Lord, in today’s First Reading, and Our Lord and those who succeeded Moses in authority in today’s Gospel. Moses interceded when the Lord wished to wipe out the People of God for their obstinacy. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord tries to show Moses’ successors their obstinacy, not to condemn them as they’re trying to condemn him, but, in his own words, “I say this so that you may be saved.”
What’s the diagnosis? That John the Baptist testified to Our Lord’s mission, but the scribes and Pharisees didn’t accept everything John preached and taught; they feared going against him due to public opinion, even though they admired it when he laid down the Law. They questioned John, but only accepted what suited them. Therefore it’s no surprise that when Our Lord gave greater testimony and backed it up with signs they wouldn’t believe either. Furthermore, the Father himself has given testimony to sending his Son; if they had had a loving relationship with the Father they would have recognized the Lord and believed in him, but they don’t, therefore not even searching Scripture do they manage to find testimony to Our Lord. Lastly, and worst of all, Moses himself, whom they revere as the keeper of the Law and consider as their guide and exemplar, will condemn them for not believing in Jesus, showing them how shaky their “legal” case is against him.
Our Lord may have been harsh with them, but he had their salvation in mind and knew, as the First Reading reminds us, how stubborn they could be. Maybe these words didn’t convert them en masse, but we can hope a few in the back of their crowd opened their hearts, just as Nicodemus did. Lent will be over soon. Let’s examine whether there’s any spiritual obstinacy in our hearts that blinds us and separates us from God. Have we made some legal case against him? Have we read Scripture with a myopia that blinds us to his love for us? It’s not too late for the Lord to give us a diagnosis too.
Readings: Exodus 32:7–14; Psalm 106:19–23; John 5:31–47.