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Facing the Serpent

September 14, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause

September 14, 2014
Numbers 21:4b-9
Fr. George Smiga

God tells Moses to do a strange thing in today’s first reading. He wants him to take a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that all of Israel can see it. Why would God ask Moses to do that? Our God is a God of life and healing, and we know that God plans to use this bronze serpent as a means to heal Israel. But why would God make healing dependent upon looking at a bronze serpent?

In order to answer this question we have to appreciate what the serpent stands for. It stands for Israel’s sin. Israel grumbled against God in the desert and broke their trust in God’s plan. So the serpent is failure, disbelief, fault. How is it connected to healing? One would expect that if you were seeking healing you should look at something positive. Would it not be better for God to tell Moses to put an angel on a pole, so everyone could look at that? But the scriptures say it is the other way around. If we want to reach life, we must first see what is against life. If we want healing, we must first face our sickness. God tells Moses to put a serpent on a pole so that we understand that if we want to get to what is right, we must first confront what is wrong.

When we fail, when we sin, when we hurt someone by our words or deeds, our first impulse is to brush that offense aside and move on. “It wasn’t my best day, but let’s not linger on the past. Let’s look to the future.” But denying our fault, dismissing our sin, does not lead to healing. It is only when we really see the consequences of our actions, how deeply our words cut, that we can truly feel the need for forgiveness. It is only when others see that we appreciate the damage that we have done, that they become willing to accept our apology.

This truth does only apply on a personal level. For years ISIS has been advancing in Iraq, but it took the sight of a gruesome beheading before America began to respond. Domestic abuse is a scourge in our country. But it took a video before a pro football player was dismissed. We need to see what is wrong, and we cannot be dependent upon our news media to provide us with videos. We need to see on our own what is wrong in our political system, in our prison system, in our educational system. Only then can we move towards healing. In order to get to what is right we must first see what is wrong.

In order to attain life, we must confront the serpent. Our God intends to bring us to life and healing. So let us make today the day that we face the things that we have done wrong so that by God’s grace we can come to life. Let us look deeply at all that is broken in our society, so that we can become partners with God in healing our world.

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