TUESDAY IN THE 2ND WEEK OF EASTER - JOHN 3:7-15
I have always been a little disconcerted by the story of the Seraph Serpent in Numbers 21. The same God that just forbade the creation of graven images in the law he gave at Mt. Sinai and who severly punished the Children of Israel in the desert for creating the image of a cud chewing beast (Exodus 32), commanded Moses to make a graven image of a serpent and place it in a place where the people can gaze upon it. It smacks of idolatry [and may be a story leftover from some ancient near-eastern snake cult].
But I digress - the reference to Moses and the serpent serves an important theological purpose in the conversation between Jesus and a "teacher of Israel." The story would have been well-known as a story of God's intervention in Israel's history to give new life to His people. It was an "earthly thing" that pointed to heavenly realities." Jesus uses the image as a sacramental image to help Niocodemus understand what it is that he must accomplish and how it will be accomplished. The image of the Son of Man "lifted up," is central to the theology of John's Gospel. Jesus will come to his full Glory when he is lifted up on the cross. John's crucifixion is so radically different from the crucifixion as it is presented in the Synoptics. The cross is the throne from which the glorified Lord reigns. The cross will become the healing symbol that all infected by the venom of the world and sin will look to for healing.
This is a supremely Catholic image from the supremely Catholic Gospel. The sense of natural, sacramental symbols that represent God's grace are as old as the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew people gazing ont he seraph serpent is beautiful prefiguring of the Christian contemplating the Crucifix (an Sacramental)or gazing upon the Blessed Sacrament (THE Sacrament). Each assures us of the presence of the Son of Man LIFTED UP so that we may believe in him and have life eternal.
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP is a Roman Catholic Priest & a Friar of the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus-USA. He is on the Pastoral Staff at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, California, and uses this page to post Homilies and Scripture reflections.