In today’s readings, the Israelites are in difficulty in the desert – complaining about their circumstances and thinking nostalgically of the conditions they left behind in Egypt. As often happens, they only remember the good parts! Then things go from bad to worse. Fiery serpents!
The writers of the book of Numbers link the two things together. They assume that because the people were complaining and then the fiery serpents came, the second thing was caused by the first – they attribute the coming of the snakes to God’s anger with them. They believe God is punishing them for their lack of gratitude.
It is deeply ingrained in human nature to make these kinds of links. In our circumstances today we can see the same thing happening as people jump on to social media to proclaim that the COVID-19 virus is sent by God as an act of vengence or punishment.
Moses, under God’s instructions, did something very interesting; he made the problem into the cure. When a person was bitten by the serpents he or she needed only to look at the image of the serpent that Moses had lifted up on a standard. They had to face up to the difficulty they were in. They had to choose to look it right in the eye.
Here we see the connection to the Gospel reading where Jesus says that he, too, will be “lifted up” when he is on the cross. And here too we can see Jesus asking us to look our own suffering, sin and death in the eye when we look at him on the cross. Because of his suffering, our problems become our cure; our sin becomes a source of strength and confidence in God’s love and mercy. As we “lean in” to Jesus’ suffering, and bring our own suffering to the cross, we also “lean in” to the love that will bring us the fullness of redemption.
So in this time of isolation, be honest with yourself and be open to God.