The Way Back Home
Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - March 11, 2018 - 12:00am

Perhaps the first part of today’s Gospel, which refers to the bronze serpent, an event in the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, may cause some confusion, especially among the fundamentalist Christians, who consider any image an “idol.”

And here, God is ordering Moses to make a bronze serpent. Is god ordering that an “idol” be made?

In the Book of Exodus, when Moses was leading the Israelites from the land of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land in Palestine, they lost faith in his leadership. They criticized both Moses and God. In order to bring them to their senses, God sent them an invasion of poisonous serpents, and many died from the bites of those snakes.

The people then repented of their rebellion and begged Moses to intercede for them with God, which Moses did. God immediately responded with forgiveness. He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and to set it on a pole, so that the people could easily see it. And so, from then on all those who were bitten by a snake and looked with faith at the bronze serpent were saved.

Incidentally, it is from this event that the medical profession has chosen the image of the snake coiled around a pole as the symbol for its healing profession.

In today’s Gospel Jesus parallels this Exodus event with his own crucifixion on Calvary.

He explains that whoever looks upon him with faith will be healed spiritually just as the Israelites were healed, when they looked upon the bronze serpent.

How does the Exodus event relate to us?

The message for us is quite simple. All of us are victims of sin. From the time of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden we gave in to the temptation of the Satanic Snake. Mankind has been poisoned by pride, greed, lust, envy, laziness, gluttony, hatred, violence, corruption, and all forms of sin.

In all of us, the poison of sin is present and undermines our spiritual life. And so, our only hope is to go to Jesus, our brother and healer. On the cross he offered himself up on our behalf and obtained for us a new life of intimacy with God and our fellowmen.

But we must receive that new life from him. He is forever the only source of salvation. If we look up to him with trust, he will heal us by the Holy Spirit of love, whom he has the power to give to all men.

The Spirit of God, who is the very life of the Father and the Son, is the all-effective remedy, which can gradually free us from pride, greed, lust, envy, and the rest.

If we are not willing to receive that new life from him, we are like the three men, who decided to go to the town fiesta. One was color-blind, the other was tone-deaf, and the third had lost his sense of taste and smell after a childhood illness.

The three men proceeded to join in the celebration. But as it happened every year, they did not enjoy it very much. The first one found it colorless, as usual; the second one was annoyed by the music of the various bandas (which was only noise to him); and the third one gobbled down his food without appreciating the fine delicacies for which the town was rightly famous.

And so, the three friends went home utterly bored. Yet, that year as everyone else in the town agreed the fiesta had been an unprecedented success. It was felt that the bright decorations, the music and food had been outstanding.

Naturally our three friends could only disagree with the judgment. They condemned the whole undertaking as a useless expensive extravaganza. So much money spent, and so little to show for it, they said. But, in view of their handicaps, no one took their criticism seriously.

It was judged that their lack of appreciation was not a reflection on the fiesta – it was a reflection on themselves. By condemning the fiesta, they were merely revealing their personal limitations.

This little story illustrates to us what today’s Gospel reading is all about. St. John reminds us most emphatically of something we always tend to forget: that God is not a judge!

On the contrary, God is a Savior. He is essentially a savior, and nothing else. Consequently, when he sends His Son into the world, it is for one purpose and one only, to save us. For, indeed, left to ourselves we can only perish far from him.

By giving us His Son, He provides us with the only means for healing us of our destructive tendencies towards hatred, greed, ambition, exploitation, backbiting, and jealousy.

John follows the reference to Jesus’ crucifixion with these words in verse 16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life.”

And verse 17 reads: “For God did not send His Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its Savior.”

These two verses have been called a summary of the Bible.

Some years ago when the space engineers in the U.S. were designing space suits for the command module pilot and the lunar module pilot, a part of the design of each space suit was an umbilical cord, consisting of a long flexible tubing. The purpose of the umbilical cord was to supply oxygen to the astronauts when they “walk” in space or pass from one module to another. This suit receptacle into which the command pilot’s cord fit was called “J3:16.”

According to the designer, just as J3:16 and J3:17 supply the astronauts with what they need in order to survive in their journey from one module to another, so John 3:16 and John 3:17 supply us with what we need to survive in our journey from earth to heaven.

However, John insists, if we refused the saving help of God. We condemn ourselves. If of our own free will we shut our eyes to His many saving signs in our lives, we are the only ones to blame for not seeing them.

If we freely close our ears to His guiding voice in our hearts, we are the ones responsible for not hearing it. If we refuse to taste and savor His presence in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in the liturgy of the Church, and in our brothers and sisters, then we are the cause of our lonely and meaningless lives.

In other words, God respects our freedom. He wants to save us. That is His deepest desire, but He cannot save us if we do not want to be saved.

Take the case of someone who is drowning. You may very well jump into the water and reach out to him, if he in turn does not reach out to your outstretched hand, your effort will be in vain.

Of us God asks us only one thing: to accept the gift of His Son. Maybe people cannot believe this. “It’s too good to be true,” they think. And basically they are convinced that God is a judge after all, and a judge is always ready to pass sentence.

But that is not true. The marvellous Good News that Jesus has come to announce is precisely the opposite. It is that God is a loving Father, who loves each one of us with a love far exceeding our wildest dreams.

“That Father,” Jesus tells us, “has sent me to all of you with only one mission: to bring you back to Him. Will you come with me?”

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