“No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:13-15).
The reference to Moses lifting up the serpent can be found in Numbers 21:4-9. The people, worn out by their journey in the desert began to complain instead of trust in God’s deliverance. The people sought a return to their prior condition of slavery rather than forge ahead and endure the trials of gaining freedom. Venomous snakes came into the camp and began to bite many who then died. The people recognized their sin and implored Moses’ intercession. Moses prayed for the people and lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole and whoever looked upon the serpent was healed.
There is a difference between seeking understanding from God, seeking to understand why something is happening in our lives, and complaining from a posture of self centeredness. The Israelites were looking at their present condition of suffering and missing the point that that they were free from slavery. They were not trusting in God’s providential care and support present to them in the moment.
How often do we, with our ease of access, slip into the same whining and complaining mode when something doesn’t go quite right. St Paul reminds us through his words to the Corinthians: “Let us not test Christ as some of them did, and suffered death by serpents” (1 Cor 10:9). This time last year, Irma was making landfall on the west coast of Florida, and JoAnn and I experienced many hours of travel in bumper to bumper traffic. The slow two day travel was grueling but we had the freedom to leave, while there were many who did not.
As I type this reflection, Florence is readying its assault on the Carolinas. Many have left, facing the inconvenience of leaving home, some are digging in to face the storm. In either case these are tough decisions. There are also those who have risked all, not just leaving natural disasters, but human aggression and violence worldwide. Many seeking aid from neighboring countries. Some are finding welcome while others are being turned away.
Paul reminds us that no matter what arises, no matter if the circumstances are inconvenient or dire, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13).
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It is a good reminder that, when trials and tribulations arise, instead of grumbling, let us look to the crucifix. The sacramental reminder that the Son of God came to be one with us, to experience the fullness of our human experience, even our pain and suffering, even man’s inhumanity and deepest levels of injustice, to lead us to freedom through his death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.
Jesus is present with us in our struggles. May we embrace this idea and remind ourselves of it, so that when we find ourselves grumbling, only looking at our own self and limitations, that we remember to turn instead to Jesus, seek his guidance, trust in him, and follow his lead. We will experience his power and support so to bear the weight of our own cross, and trust that there will be a way out. We are not alone.
What used to be a symbol of oppression, torture, and capital punishment is no more. Let us embrace and “glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; in him is our salvation, life and resurrection. Through him we are saved and set free” (Gal 6:14). Is the life of the disciple easier? Absolutely not, but with Christ at our side we will be free, even in our struggle. Let us pray for those affected by the effects of Florence, for their safety and support through these next days, weeks, and months.
Photo: Crucifix in the sanctuary of St Peter, Jupiter, FL
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, September 14, 2018: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091418.cfm