A bit of background will help a deeper appreciation of today’s readings.
We know the story of creation well: Adam and Eve were created by God and given everything they needed that they might be fully happy and fully human. God also gives them the freedom to accept or to reject this paradise of love and life.
After the creation of the heavens and the earth and the creation of humans, the account continues with the voice of evil through the serpent:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The temptation proffered by the serpent does not make the serpent a bad creature – just an early ancestor of the many people and advertising blurbs which promise the world and fail to deliver suggesting you will be fully happy, successful, powerful and popular as a god if you eat this, do this, buy this, wear this, shop here etc.
We humans are not created to be God. We are designed to be human, and our deepest desire in life is to be human in relationship with others, looking up to Jesus Christ without whom we cannot live.
The idea of having the power and influence of God is the temptation.
The one who is fully human does not settle for false and tempting promises (success, power, possessions, fame and fortune). Sin is a reminder that we are not yet fully ourselves. In other words we are not yet fully human. We are in the process of becoming human. That common old saying “Of course I sin, I’m only human” is not only not true, it’s heresy! The reality is that if I was fully human I would not sin.
There are some things we cannot change. We are not God, we are human. There are some things we can change: we are free to sin or to not sin. A wise person will not only appreciate the difference, but will face these facts and passionately seek the life that is consistent with being fully human.
That’s a bit of a longer intro than I intended, but it readies us to appreciate today’s two readings. In one of the mobile apps I use for the daily scriptures each reading has a brief header. Here are the two for today:
The account of sin entering the world tells of the serpent as the tempter. The Israelites in their forty years in the desert were journeying from captivity to freedom, but the struggle of their desert-lockdown made them vulnerable to attack from every temptation (as today’s first reading continues):
“There were fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.”… So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.”
Note that the people had to look up to confront the very thing that they feared face-to-face in order to be saved. It was serpents that they feared, but they were able to live only when they faced the serpent that had been lifted up on the standard.
In these pandemic days we are having to face many of our fears without our usual securities and escapes of power, success projects and certainties. Remember that great reflection from Pope Francis in March of last year:
“The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits, and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives …”
This is not a comfortable place for us to be and the challenge before us is the choice between 1) surviving and 2) embracing difficult days as an opportunity for growth.
We don’t have to do this alone. An honest and open phone conversation with a friend can help. But most of all let’s turn to Jesus honestly expressing our fears to him in the confidence that he is waiting for us to invite him to heal, forgive, strengthen and transform us into people who are able to live abundantly.
- Have a conversation with Jesus about your fears. We no longer look at the serpent, we look to Jesus who was crucified and lifted up on the standard of the cross. When we face Jesus crucified, our own fears and anxieties come to our consciousness. While execution as a criminal looked like the end of Jesus for his followers, the resurrection of Jesus transforms what looks like death on earth into the pathway to life. If we turn to Jesus in our fears, and walk with him even to death, we are able to experience resurrection now and for eternity.