The Rev. Dr. Wesley Hill
In our reading for today, Jesus says to the crowd, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he.” It’s a cryptic saying of the sort Jesus is famous for. Only when you hear it in the context of the whole Gospel of John does it begin to make some sense.
Jesus’ being “lifted up” is a sort of paradoxical image in this Gospel. On the one hand, it can mean being “exalted” or “famous” or “resplendent” — something along the lines of a coronation. But on the other hand, it is a euphemistic way of talking about death by crucifixion — being “lifted up” as in “hoisted up” with nails through your hands and feet on a rough set of wooden beams.
Jesus probably intends to evoke both meanings here. He, the Son of Man, the true Human Being, will be exalted and glorified by God the Father. But his exaltation will take place in the strangest, most grotesque way: by his execution.
When Jesus is “lifted up” on the cross to die, it is at that moment, he says, when you will realize that he is — that he is the One who shows us what it really means to live as a human person, and, simultaneously, what it really means for God to be God. He stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to die for us, and in that act we see him crowned with divine glory.
The Rev. Dr. Wesley Hill is an assisting priest at Trinity Cathedral and an associate professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is the author most recently of The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father (Lexham Press, 2019).