4th Sunday of Lent
There were many in Palestine that thought Jesus was a Messiah like Joshua and David before Him, chosen by God to lead the people in overthrowing Jewish rule. They saw Rome as the greatest enemy of the people of God. But God’s people had been oppressed, terrorized and brought low by an enemy far more ancient and terrible than Rome.
Rome too was subject to Death for as much as its legions were masters at wielding its dread sickle, even their mighty emperors—called Sons of God—eventually fell beneath its indiscriminate blade. The crucifix, seen all over the Empire, was understood to be a sign of Rome’s might over all who might oppose her: resist us, and we will crucify you.
In today’s Gospel Jesus alludes to an episode in His people’s history, when Moses was leading them out from under the boot of Egypt’s pharaoh. The people blamed God for their hunger and thirst and suddenly they encountered deadly serpents, blaming God for them as well. When they repented and begged God to take them away, God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole: those who looked upon the serpent were saved. Their enemy—the serpent—was displayed for all to see: God was revealing to them their true enemy and those who recognized that the serpent—not God—was causing them to suffer, found their salvation in Him. In having them look upon the bronze serpent He was revealing for them not only the folly of their own sin, but also the source of their troubles.
This is not the first run-in God’s people have had with deadly serpents, for there is a more deadlier serpent whose venom had already poisoned their hearts: it was the serpent that tempted Eve. More specifically it was that “…ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world” (Rev. 12:9) who also tempted the people of God in the desert to complain against Him. They blamed God for their suffering; God reminded them that He was not their enemy at all.
In referencing this moment in salvation history, Jesus is foreshadowing His own death upon the Cross which reveals to the people of the world the truest enemy of mankind, the enemy He came to defeat forever: Death. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son not to condemn it but to offer eternal life to all who would believe in Him. Jesus is the life that is the light of the whole human race (John 1:4) but many, as our Gospel reminds us today, have turned a blind eye to that light and thus condemn themselves to death, for they refuse to believe in Him.
In short order Holy Week will be upon us; it is not too late to open our eyes to what God is trying to reveal to us through His Son. He came that we all might see the love God has for us and, by seeing the light, we might live by it; that the light of Christ might be the very source of our own life. Hold steady to your Lenten observance and take a little time each day to consider prayerfully how the light of Christ has shone into your life, and how He is using that light to reveal the ways the serpent is attempting to divert your gaze.