…in spite of our shortcomings we are accepted, and all we have to do is accept that acceptance and our lives will be changed from mere existence to real Life, from now on, everlasting life.
– Ron McDonald (The Spirituality of Community Life: When We Come ’round Right) p.76
The readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross cycle A can be found here.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is jam-packed with good news for us all. If you have ever been to a sporting event you may have seen fans strategically placed where the camera will capture their image holding up those iconic hand-made signs that simply read “John 3:16.” It is almost cliché to be seen holding a John 3:16 sign for a fan these days, but we all understand the message. That should be all that really matters.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
– John 3:16
Now that I have paid tribute to the blessed sports fans I would like to talk about the blessed healing profession. This Sunday should really be dedicated to those people around us who have dedicated their lives to healing us.
We have all seen the iconic medical image of a pole and around the pole is a coiled snake. Sometimes the image has two snakes and the pole has wings. No matter what image we might be familiar with when we see it we know what it represents; healing. The image is common but you might not be familiar with its origin.
“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.
– Numbers 21:4-9
So the story goes that the Jewish people were off on their journey after escaping the Pharaoh in Egypt and they were grumbling about all the wandering. Did God bring them out of Egypt to die in the desert? My favorite translation says that they even detested the miserable food. Maybe it was the miserable food talking, but the people said some things against God that were ill advised.
As a result God sent them fiery snakes, so called because of the burning sensation the poison left after the bite. Naturally, the people hated the snakes worse that the food. Moses prayed to God and with the help of a bronze serpent on a pole those who were bitten could be healed. John chose this imagery to help us understand Jesus.
For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by what was seen, but by you, the savior of all.
– Wisdom 16:7
The scripture scholar will tell you that Numbers 21 and Wisdom 16 tell the story of how the people turned toward God for salvation and healing. The Johannine community understood these old stories well and in the Gospel Jesus is connected with the saving image of the bronze serpent. Turn now toward Jesus for healing and eternal life.
John sees Jesus symbolically as the serpent lifted up on his cross, drawing the venom out of human life, restoring wholeness. It is a powerful image.
– John Shelby Spong (The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic) p.92
Eternal life is not something we earned or even deserve. It doesn’t depend on special prayers or devotions. The Church we belong to makes no difference either. The color of our skin or our gender has absolutely no bearing on receiving eternal life. Try as we might, there is no secret handshake or other knowledge needed to gain it. If there is one thing to take away from this homily it should be that Jesus’ promise of healing and eternal life are ours to have, as a gift.
There is one thing we must do to allow Jesus to transform our lives. Accept the gift. Look upon Jesus, and live. The price for healing and eternal life is to simply accept the gift. Do we deserve it? That doesn’t even matter. Just accept it.
I pray that as we turn toward Jesus that we can learn to accept the gift of healing, wholeness and eternal life. I pray that each of us and our communities look upon Jesus and accept the gift. After all, what should we expect from God who is love?