4TH SUNDAY OF LENT (LAETARE SUNDAY)
Have you ever wondered why the snake has been a symbol for medicine? How can a poisonous animal like a snake be a symbol for healing? In the ancient time, snakes had been part of the temple worship among the Canaanites most especially in fertility cults. Snakes were being worshiped as gods. The monotheistic belief of Israel destroyed this idolatry and turned it into a remedy.
In our gospel this Sunday, the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus brought us back to that moment in the history of Israel when they were on their way to the Promised Land. God sent fiery serpents to the Israelites in the desert as a punishment for all their complaints and rebellion. After they repented Moses was commanded by God to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole; those who were bitten were saved by looking at the serpent. Just like the serpent, Jesus in the same manner will also be lifted up so that anyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.
“To be lifted up” was the crucifixion of Jesus. But for St. John, “to be lifted up” had a double meaning, namely his exaltation on the cross and his exaltation in glory at the same time. In biblical exegesis (interpretation), it is the continuous movement of ascent by Jesus towards His Father, namely 1) his crucifixion 2) his resurrection and 3) his ascension. For St. John these movements comprise one single event: the glorification of Jesus! This is the reason why the crucifix has always been the icon of our redemption. It is not just about the death of Jesus but most especially his glorification which is different in the understanding of other Christian denominations. That is the reason why we have the crucifix in our churches while the other Christian denominations have only the cross.
Just as the serpents represented the rebellious attitude of the Israelites, this time sin is the expression of our rebellious hearts. Just as the serpents poisoned and killed the Israelites, sin is the present-day poison that continues to plague humanity. Just as the bronze serpent was the antidote for the venom by just looking at it, Jesus is the only antidote for our sin, if only we believe in Him. But the cure is useless unless the poisoned victim accepts it. Jesus’s death on the cross has no meaning for those who do not believe.
Next time we look at the crucifix, we simply don’t see a dead body hanging lifelessly fixed on wood but the love of the Father giving up His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.
What are the serpents in our lives that continue to poison us? Are we ready to accept the antidote to get the venom out of our system? Do we let the cure be wasted away?