The Bronze Serpent
April 4, 2017
TUESDAY, Lent week five
The Responsorial (Psalm 102) tells us what to say when we are just tired of following Christ: “O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.”
In Numbers 21: 4-9 the people were tired of following Moses through the desert. They “complained against God” because food and drink were scarce in the desert, and what they got didn’t satisfy them:
“We are disgusted with this wretched food.”
We may not have traveled in the desert. But if we have been disciples for very long in the true sense — “students” of God’s mind and heart through reading and meditation — we know what it is to be “dry.” There are times when reading God’s word is like eating sawdust without salt. And times when any religious act, from devotions to Eucharist, just makes us “disgusted.”
Sometimes it is not that bad. But we are just bored and tired of “putting in the time” on whatever our spiritual “fitness program” is. That is when we pass or fail to pass the test. (Actually, most of us fail it many times, but God keeps giving us retakes).
God doesn’t send serpents to afflict us. He doesn’t have to. Once we have begun to “seek the face of God,” if we stop seeking it we feel the difference. We may not fall back into previous sins (or we may), but we will live with the sense that something is lacking in our lives. We will keep getting little bites until we either “die” by giving up entirely, or learn to turn to God: “O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.”
When we know we can’t persevere just by will power (although sometimes it will feel like that’s all we’ve got), God will give us help that lets us appreciate everything we do as a gift of God.
John 8: 21-30 explains that the “bronze serpent” is the symbol of Jesus on the cross. It teaches us
discipleship is not just a human exercise. The Liturgy of the Word leads us to what we celebrate in the Liturgy of the Eucharist: the mystery of dying and rising in Christ.
Jesus said the problem with being Christian is: “You belong to what is below — this world. I belong to what is above.” Jesus is divine; he is God. But it took his dying and rising to reveal it: “When you lift up the Son of Man you will come to realize that I AM.”
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14),
To be Christian is to “become Christ.” We can only do this by looking to Jesus “lifted up” on the cross and letting ourselves be lifted up with him by incorporation into his body at Baptism. By this we die in him and rise to live as his own human-divine body on earth. We are disciples to learn how to do this.
But living as Christ can only be learned by surrender to letting Jesus act with us, in us and through us. When we can no more, we look to him in whom we are and pray, “O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you. Do what I am doing with me, in me and through me.”
Initiative: Say the WIT prayer. Persevere in human efforts to be divine.