There’s a small, roadside billboard on US 31 just south of South Bend which offers a brief, yet pointed, commentary on the meaning of life. Perhaps you’ve seen its message elsewhere. It goes like this: “Life is short, death is sure, sin is the cause, Christ is the cure.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the cure. Jesus is the cure of the greatest of all illnesses - death itself. Today we hear the verse known well to football fans everywhere: John 3:16 which reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
What aren’t so well known however, are the verses immediately prior: John 3:14-15. The beginning of today’s Gospel: “Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
This verse requires explanation. What is Jesus talking about? What is this serpent that Moses is lifting up in the desert?
It comes from the Book of Numbers, chapter 21, verses 4-9. As the Israelites are being led by Moses through the desert, they complain against God and Moses about their lives: “Why have you brought us from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
Then, as usually happens to the Israelites when they turn their back on God, they are left without His protection and left vulnerable to danger, as they are bitten by poisonous serpents in the desert and some of them die.
Then, as usually happens to the Israelites when they are faced with grave danger, they turn back to God and Moses and ask for forgiveness and healing. “Then the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray the Lord to take the serpents from us.’”
Then, as usually happens with God, he offers the forgiveness and healing that is asked for. God tells Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and to mount it on a pole. God then promises Moses that anyone who looks upon the bronze serpent will be cured of their snakebite.
This, by the way, is one of the explanations as to why the medical profession uses the symbol of a snake wrapped around a pole as a sign of healing. Look for it the next time you see an ambulance.
Jesus tells us that just as Moses lifted up a serpent mounted on a pole to be the cure for those in danger of death so too, Jesus is mounted on a pole and lifted up. He is mounted on the pole of the cross and lifted up on Calvary.
And God makes the same promise to us that He made to the Israelites. Whoever, among them, looked upon the serpent mounted on the pole would be saved. So too, whoever looks to Christ on the Cross and believes in him will be saved and have eternal life.
St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians: “God is rich in mercy” He has great love for us. And even when we turn away from Him through our transgressions, He brings us back to life through Christ.
This Lent, look to Christ and his cross for the healing you need in your life. And I urge you to allow Christ to heal you of whatever wounds you might be suffering by coming to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our parish penance service is next Monday night at 7PM.
It does not matter how long ago you’ve been bitten by the serpent. It does not matter how many times you’ve been bitten. It does not matter how deep the wounds go. It does not matter how much venom has been pumped into you. Christ’s passion and death on the Cross cures all. Come receive this cure in Reconciliation.
One of the prayers we would say before the beginning of Latin class was one called the “Anima Christi” which means “Soul of Christ.” It is a prayer which gives thanks to Christ for the saving, healing power of his passion and death on the Cross. It is a popular prayer among priest’s after saying Mass and I’d like to share it with you. At the beginning of the year, Deacon Jim encouraged us to learn a new prayer every month. Perhaps you’d like to learn the “Anima Christi” this month.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strenghten me.
O good Jesus, listen to me.
Within Thy wounds, hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malicious enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee,
that with Thy Saints I may praise Thee
forever and ever. Amen.