Jesus had to be “lifted up” onto the Cross. He had to die the death the serpent’s bite caused, although He Himself had not been bitten. He took the poison for us. Out of His love for the world, God sent His Son to save us from sure death. In Moses’ day, the people had to look at the creature who had poisoned them and believe that God would heal them. Now, we must look at Jesus on the Cross, a human being, a man just like the one through whom the poison of the serpent in Eden spread to the whole human race, and believe we will be healed by the re-birth we so desperately need. When the people saw the serpent in the wilderness, it reminded them of their disobedience. When we see Jesus on the Cross, it reminds us of the gravity of our sin. We can see so clearly that it requires judgment and that death is its just punishment. When Jesus was “lifted up” out of death and then “lifted up” to Heaven at the Ascension, we know that our debt has been paid. We die with Jesus, in baptism, and yet we live (“born of water and the Spirit”).
Slowly, we can begin to realize how effectively the episode in the wilderness foreshadowed Jesus being “lifted up” for us. In case we don’t, St. John gives us an explanation of what Jesus came to do. Jesus is God’s healing for us. Those who reject Him remain sick with the serpent’s poison from Eden—they remain full of death (“whoever does not believe has already been condemned”). The Son of God crucified on the Cross makes explicit what St. John tells us: “The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil”. Those who look at Jesus lifted up and believe He is their only hope for forgiveness and new life come “to the light.” They are born anew into eternal life. As a result, their “works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
Did we realize there is so much to “see” when we gaze at Jesus “lifted up”?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, during Lent I often look at You lifted up on the Cross. Help me to see Your victory and Your love there. Help me to live as if I understand it.
First Reading (Read 2 Chron 36:14-16, 19-23)
This reading helps us see that God’s punishments are always provoked by man’s disobedience and covenant infidelity, but they also always hold within them the promise of hope. The reason for that is God’s great, unquenchable love for us. Even in the wilderness, God’s punishment with the “fiery serpent” was meant to teach His people that their happiness lay in faith, not grumbling and ingratitude. When they repented and believed God, they were healed.
Our reading tells us the sad story of the decline of “all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people” into great decadence. “Early and often” God sent prophets to call the people back to their covenant with Him, because He had compassion on them. They refused to listen, so when there was “no remedy,” God allowed the Babylonians to attack Jerusalem, destroy the Temple, and carry the inhabitants off into exile. However, Jeremiah, the prophet whose dire warnings of impending judgment are among the darkest writings in Scripture, held out a flicker of hope after the chastisement: “Until the land has retrieved its lost Sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest while the seventy years are fulfilled.” The Exile would not last forever. When the punishment had served its purpose, which was to make the people realize what they had lost and to resolve to cherish their covenant with God more deeply, it ended. The LORD stirred Cyrus, king of Persia (who had conquered Babylon) to allow the Jews to return to Judah. He even gave them help to rebuild the Temple. All was not lost!