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Tuesday – Fifth Week – Lent
Readings: Num 21:4-9; Jn 8:21-30.
Reading 1 (Num 21:4-9):
From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road,
to bypass the land of Edom.
But with their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,
which bit the people so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.”
Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,
and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
Gospel (Jn 8:21-30):
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.”
So the Jews said,
“He is not going to kill himself, is he,
because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
He said to them, “You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins.”
So they said to him, “Who are you?”
Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning.
I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true,
and what I heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.
So Jesus said to them,
“When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.
Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh Minh Tien, O.P.
I. THEME: Seize opportunities in order to live.
To be successful in business, a person needs four elements: customers, opportunity, time and the product; the most important element is opportunity. Opportunities shall come to all people, but in order to benefit, people must seize opportunities. When opportunities passed, they could never be backed. Similarly in our spiritual life, people shall not live forever, the maximum time they can have is about 100 years to learn about and to believe in Christ. God shall give people many opportunities to do so; but people must take advantage of time and seize opportunities to learn about Christ and to believe what he teaches. It people don’t take advantage of time and miss opportunities to learn about and to believe in Christ, they must be responsible for their life, that is: either to be saved or destroyed forever.
Today readings center around the main point which is to seize opportunities. In the first reading, the author of Numbers reported that the Israelites didn’t seize the opportunity to train themselves in the desert. They complained against God and Moses because they didn’t have good food and water. The result of their complaint was they were killed by fiery serpents. God, out of love, gave them the second opportunity: whoever were bitten, looked up on the bronze serpent which Moses mounted on the pole, shall live again. In the Gospel, Jesus revealed to the Jews the meaning of the event in the Book of Numbers. They must believe in him in order to be saved; it not, they shall die in their sins. If they don’t believe in him while he was still living, they must do so when he was raised up on the cross. If they missed both opportunities to believe in him, they shall die in their sins.
1/ Reading I: Moses raised up the bronze serpent in the desert to save the Israelites from death.
1.1/ God purified the Israelites forty years in the desert: God’s purpose when he let the Israelites wander forty years in the desert was to prepare them to be suitable for the Promise Land. They must absolutely trust in God by overcoming all obstacles on the journey such as: food, water, dismayed weather, tiredness. In the journey through desert, many times the Israelites lost their patience, they complained against God and Moses as in today report. They said to Moses: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died.
Every year, the Church celebrates this event by calling the faithful to fast, to pray and to give alms during the forty days of the Lenten season. The purposes are to let the faithful have the opportunity to train themselves, not to be slaves for material things, to have time to examine their conscience and to confess their sins, to grow in virtues, and to share their resources with the unfortunate. If the faithful know how to take advantage of the opportunity, they shall have strength to control their bad habits and to advance in their spiritual life.
1.2/ God saved the Israelites from death by commanding them to look upon the bronze serpent: Many nations and tribes worshipped serpents as a god, especially in the regions of Asia and the Ancient Near East. The archaeology discovered many images of the bronze serpent carved in the plaques at Timnah, near the Dead Sea. Timnah lied on the Sinai desert, an area which was very rich in copper but also a place for fiery serpents. People who came here to look for copper used to be killed by serpents so that they worshipped them. Serpents were the image of both death and healing. The poisonous serpent bites people to death, but its poison is used by the Indians to heal many diseases as a Vietnamese proverb said, “take poison to heal other poison.” The serpent on a pole becomes the symbol of the medical field for a long time. The event of the temptation in the Garden and the event in today passage had a relation with the serpent.
When the Israelites were bitten to death in the desert, they came to Moses and said: “We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you. Pray the Lord to take the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered.
2/ Gospel: Jesus was raised up on the cross to save people.
2.1/ The first opportunity to believe in Christ when he was living: Jesus dialogued with the Jews and persuaded them to believe in him by revealing to them the followings:
(1) What shall happen to him in the near future: Jesus was going through his Passion and Death; but he shall resurrect and come back to God. They shall repent and look for him; but it is too late because they can’t ascend to heaven with him. They must believe in him so their sins can be forgiven; if they don’t, their sins remain in them. The Jews didn’t understand what Jesus was revealing to them; they thought he was going to commit suicide. According to Jewish tradition, whoever commits suicide shall be confined in the darkest place. The Jews thought that Jesus’ saying to them, “’Where I am going you cannot come” was truth because if Jesus commits suicide, the place he shall end up they shall never want to come.
(2) The difference between him and them: Jesus has the origin from heaven, the Jews’ origin are in this world. He doesn’t belong to the world; they belong to the world. Jesus reminded them one more time that they should believe in him so that their sins could be forgiven.
(3) The relationship between God and him: God the Father has sent Jesus into the world to die for and to redeem people’s sins. The only way for their sins to be forgiven is to believe in him. If they don’t believe in him, their sins remain in them, and they shall die in their sins. God wants Jesus to reveal this truth to them; he revealed but they refused to believe it.
2.2/ The second opportunity to believe in Christ when he was raised up on the cross: Jesus foresaw in what way he must die. This is the second time Jesus told them the way he must die in the Fourth Gospel. The first time was when Jesus conversed with Nicodemus. He recalled to them the event of the bronze serpent as we read in the Book of Numbers in today first reading: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). In today passage, Jesus told them: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
Jesus wanted to tell them: Even though you don’t believe in me now; but you must believe in me when you see what I already said to you shall happen, more specifically, when you shall raise me up on the cross. At that time, you shall know all what I told you are the truth. They are the relationship between Jesus and his Father, God’s plan of salvation and they must believe in him for their sins to be forgiven.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We must seize opportunities to learn about and to believe in God and Christ because once they passed, we might never have another one like that.
– Don’t wait when we come to an old age because we don’t know how long we live. Moreover, at that age we don’t know if we still have wisdom and strength to learn about Him.