1st Reading: Numbers 21:5-9
When the serpents bit the people, Moses made a bronze serpent as an antidote
The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
2nd Reading: Philippians 2:6-11
Hymn to Christ, who humbled himself even unto death
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Gospel: John 3:13-17
The Son of Man must be lifted up as a saving sign for the world
No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The Cross that Saves
Paradoxically, Christians affirm our passion for life under the sign of the Cross, which in Roman times was a cruel, inhuman instrument of execution, the most frightful form of death. Yet Jesus’ plan for his life was a positive one — to help his fellow man and women. By his touch blind people regained their sight, the lame could walk, lepers were cleansed, and wherever he went he proclaim the good news to the poor and affirmed their dignity and their rights. Having seen and heard him, a woman once cried out, “Blessed are the breasts at which you nursed” (Lk 11:27). But this same life-enhancing Messiah from Nazareth was denied a proper trial, mocked and spat upon, dressed up as a king with thorns for a crown, scourged and abused and finally hung on a cross. As Isaiah foretold, he was scorned by the people, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him” (Is 53:2).
How can we glory today in the instrument of his death, that frightening cross where thieves, slaves and criminals were executed and onto which He was nailed, led like a lamb to the slaughter? It is because this crucified Jesus has become our lifegiver in the spirit that his Cross is the life-giving throne of mercy on which he will forever be honoured. With the penitent thief we can pray: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). The instrument of his death has become the instrument of God’s mercy to us; and so we proclaim the triumph of new Life, poured out from the Cross.
During their Exodus through the desert of Sinai there was a plague of fiery serpents, from whose bite many of the people died. Then God Moses made a bronze statue of a serpent and mounted it on a pole, and when those who has been bitten looked at it, they recovered. Jesus applies this episode to himself: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The sign of the healing serpent is now the conventional sign for Christian doctors, in their efforts to preserve life.
We try to absorb the paschal meaning of whatever suffering comes our way, trusting that powerful grace flows from the Cross. Of course, we don’t just focus on our own crosses and the burdens of life. The Cross of Christ empowers us to share in the struggle against oppressors of every sort. We can best honour his cross today if, like Him, we stand up for those in our times who are unjustly treated and marginalised.
Transformed by grace, the first disciples spread his message and raised hope among the humble and the poor. Theirs was the Roman world with its own forms of globalization and injustice, yet with the help of grace, and remembering the wounds of Christ, they dared to proclaim his Word even in face of martyrdom. What can and should we do in the name of Christ’s saving Cross, for our people, today?