The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Num. 21:4-9 • Ps. 107:1-3,17-22
Eph. 2:1-10 • John 3:14-21
The thrill of victory against Arad at “Hormah” is short-lived. Heading south toward the Red Sea, the Israelites return to bad food, burning thirst, and a bitter spirit. The Lord, displeased, sends disciplinary serpents to bite and kill, an extreme measure prompting confession and supplication. Moses prays and the Lord tells him to lift high the cross of Christ, though in the primitive form of a fiery serpent. If bitten by a wild snake, the people look to Moses and his snake high and lifted up. Instant cure, though unusual.
St. John, so excellent an exegete, takes us right to the truth. He takes the tongue of Jesus and says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be exalted” (John 3:14). The designation “the Son of Man” has the advantage of suggesting both Jesus and the members of whom Jesus is the head. “No one goes to heaven, except he who descends from heaven, the Son of Man” (3:13). The eternal Son descends and by his incarnation becomes the Son of Man, assuming our nature. What he takes he never relinquishes, and so, lifted high in humiliation, entombed with stone, rising on the eighth day, ascending to the Father, he calls us to go where he goes, for faith has wed us to the Crucified and Risen One. We are born again. We live anew. We have in him vitam aeternam, not after skin and bone and failing muscle fall to dust, but in the very moment you see this Word (John 3:15).
Before we went to heaven, before we got hid with God in Christ, we walked about like fools, following a path according to the age and the prince of power of the air, of the spirit which works in the sons of distrust. We were like everyone else. To a sorry degree, we still are. For our heaven is not complete; we fall and wait for forgiveness and newness. But we go on in the confidence that God has co-vivified us in Christ, co-raised us in Christ and made us to sit in the best seats on the front row overlooking verdant pastures. We may hesitate to say it, but not God. God sees our abundant riches, which, in truth, are grounded in something called “Sum Qui Dat,” a title not found in Scripture but nonetheless dripping from every page. I am who gives.
God gives salvation and salvation is free. Salvation is not from you, from flesh, blood, a pristine pedigree, sickness endured or a clocked and measured kindness. Not that works are a matter indifferent, for “we are the works about to be done of that one/Christ” (Eph. 2:10). God has prepared good comings and goings, and we are to walk in them empowered by the gratia which is salvation.
Suppose — rightly — that God saves you. Do not suppose that he has saved you for nothing. Push the serpents aside and get to work.
Look It Up
Read Numbers 21:4-9. It is strange medicine, but medicinal all the same.
Think About It
Jesus has prepared you for work, supplying the fuel (himself) and the details of your mission. Be simple and humble about this. Asking my secretary and my wife, both of whom are special divine agents, I get clear instructions.