DAILY READINGS AND REFLECTION
Tuesday 5th Week in Lent, 31 March 2020
First reading, Numbers 21:4-9 – If anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked up at the bronze serpent and lived
THE Israelites left Mount Hor by the road to the Sea of Suph, to skirt the land of Edom. On the way the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’
At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’
Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.
Gospel, John 8:21-30 – When you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know that I am He
JESUS said to the Pharisees: ‘I am going away; you will look for me and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.’
The Jews said to one another, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ Jesus went on:
‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I have told you already: You will die in your sins. Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.’
So, they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus answered: ‘What I have told you from the outset. About you I have much to say and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is truthful, and what I have learnt from him I declare to the world.’
They failed to understand that he was talking to them about the Father. So Jesus said:
‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing of myself: what the Father has taught me is what I preach; he who sent me is with me, and has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him.’
As he was saying this, many came to believe in him.
IF we think that the Israelites bitten by the poisonous snakes got healed by worshiping a bronze serpent in the desert, we cannot be more wrong. It would be superstition.
And Catholics, so accustomed to the (mis-)use of the sacramentals (not Sacraments) like crucifixes, statues, medals, rosaries, scapulars etc, can become vulnerable to superstition by thinking that these “holy article’s are talismans having some supernatural and protective power by themselves”. See Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2111 (CCC 2111).
The deep truth in the story of the bronze serpent in today’s first reading, is best learnt from Jesus, the Truth Himself, who in the gospel compares the serpent lifted up in the desert to His own being “lifted up” on the Cross.
Since the liberation from Egypt, and despite having seen many mighty miracles, the Israelites, now sorely tested by the arduous life in the desert (danger of all kinds, lack of water, food, proper shelter etc) did not believe that God was taking care of them anymore and that they all would soon perish.
The spirit of distrust, disobedience and rebellion poisoned their heart. They never stopped murmuring and complaining against God and Moses. So, God sent poisonous snakes (Covid-19?) to bite them. They were dying like flies. Baru tahu! And … they realized that they had nowhere and no one to turn to for help, so they came crawling back to Moses and God whom they had been despising!
Then God told and ordered them to turn their stiff neck and look at the raised image of the lifted bronze serpent He had told Moses to make. Looking at the image of the serpent should graphically remind them of the horrible and real death surrounding them. They must look at it, because GOD SAID so, and COMMANDED so.
They must repent from their disbelief in Him, from rebellion, murmuring. They must believe, submit and obey. Only faith in the one true God saves. And this was how and why those who were bitten by the serpents and looked at the serpent lived. (NB: This is very different from the idolatrous worship of the golden calf in Ex 32).
There is also a stiff-necked and unbelieving group of people in the gospel, the Pharisees and the Jews. No matter how Jesus tried to convince them He had come from God, they just would not accept, so Jesus declared: “… you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come… You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world…Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
But they persisted asking ‘Who are you’? In desperation and in total finality Jesus told them plainly, they would never believe He was the Messiah until after they would have lifted Him up (on the cross) and killed Him.
Who is He lifted up on the Cross? The Messiah, the One who saves. Who is Jesus who saves?
He is the Son of Man, the Son of God, who believed and obeyed the Father, submitting humbly and sacrificing His life itself in total faith and obedience to the Father.
To believe Jesus is to listen to Him who had first obeyed the Father. He was never on His own, doing His own thing, only what the Father who sent Him had told Him to do.
O Jesus, lifted up on the cross for our salvation,
remove our pride,
our arrogant cleverness and self-sufficiency,
our self-pity, complaint, and rebellion,
and our hardness of heart.
Make us gaze constantly at You on the cross and learn to be obedient sons and daughters of Your Father and our Father, ever secure in His love. Amen.