Thursday, March 9
“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”
Early one January morning, I awoke to devastating news: a dear friend’s daughter had been critically injured in a car accident and would not survive. Immediately I reached out to express heartbreak and to offer love and support. Yet a storm of pain engulfed me – shock; grief for my friend and her family; anger at the other driver; anxiety over the fragility of life; and most of all, helplessness.
This Gospel reading showed me a way out. Jesus first refers to a curious story from the Book of Numbers. Near the end of the Israelites’ years of wandering in the wilderness, God sent them poisonous serpents to punish them for their impatience and ingratitude. After many died from serpent bites, the survivors repented and asked Moses to intercede. Rather than remove the serpents, God instructed Moses to create a bronze serpent and set it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten by a real serpent would look at the bronze serpent and survive.
On first reading, this tale smacks of idolatry. But God did not give any magical power to the bronze serpent itself. To the contrary, the image symbolized God’s own healing power and served to remind the Israelites to return to him alone for sustenance.
Through this story, Jesus foretells his own role in God’s plan of redemption. As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent, so too would Jesus be lifted up – i.e., crucified, then resurrected. Through the lifting up of the bronze serpent, God offered the Israelites salvation from physical death. Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God offers all of us salvation from eternal death. This salvation comes not from within, but from God, through his infinite love and redeeming grace.
Reflecting on this message, I realized that I felt helpless because I was trying to overcome my pain alone – an impossible task. Turning to God, I prayed for healing and strength. As the tears flowed, I felt divine love and warmth envelope me and begin to dissolve the tension that been gripping me. These days I continue to reach out to my friend and her family, and I try to support them in meaningful ways. As they proceed on their long journey of healing, I pray that God’s love and grace will lift them up every step of the way.
Dear God, through your Word, you remind us to look to you alone for sustenance and healing. As you lifted up Jesus for our salvation, we pray that you will lift us up every day, so that we may live in service to you and others. Amen.