So often we look down upon our world. It is easy to do. When we daily hear of the great suffering that is inflicted upon people all over the world, the killings, the massive poverty, the human rights violations, the illness and suffering caused by disease, all of these events cast a dark shadow upon the world and upon our souls. Daily we peer into the darkness of the human condition that is being swallowed up in sin, both personal sin and structural sin. As we daily plunge into this darkness and abyss of evil, suffering and violence we sense that fear is growing within us. It seems like the darkness is growing and that there is no end to the cruelty that one person can inflict upon another. The more that we look into this darkness the more that the darkness begins to creep into our own souls.
Once in the desert Israel fell into this darkness. The Israelites were grumbling and murmuring against God and Moses and complaining about everything. Serpents were sent to bite the people and it seemed like the serpents were everywhere. People no longer looked up into the heavens but they now looked only on the ground, searching for where the next serpent would come. They began to believe that the whole world was full of serpents and that there was no escape from them. Then God instructed Moses to raise up a bronze serpent on a pole and everyone who looked upon the serpent raised up would be saved. The bronze serpent had no power in itself other than the ability to get the people to look up again to the heavens and to remember the tender love, mercy and providential care of God who had delivered them from Egypt and who would always be their salvation. This allowed them to escape from their darkness and fear and to find hope again in the Lord. Looking up to heaven and remembering God was a remedy for the serpent sickness that had fallen upon them. (Numbers 21,4-9)
In the gospel of John, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Nicodemus is familiar with the darkness of his time. He lives in the darkness among others who are plotting the death of Jesus. You can sense that he is growing tired of the darkness and that he longs for the light. Nicodemus sees a light shining in Jesus, in the things that he is doing and saying, and he wants to be a part of that light. Nicodemus comes to the light of Jesus and seeks to learn more about the light that is emanating from Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus: “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.” (Jn 3,14) Nicodemus must stop looking down upon the earth and upon the works of evil, hatred and fear that are part of the human condition and he must begin again to look up to the heavens and see the love of God revealed in the cross of Christ. It is the light of God’s love that will drive away the darkness and create a new day of hope.
When we look up to see Jesus lifted up on the cross, what do we see? We see that there is a remedy for sin, sickness, cruel violence and death itself. The remedy that God offers to us for the poison of sin is the shining light of love that emanates from the cross of Christ. The cross is the sign of the immense love that God has for the world he created and that has been broken by sin. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3,16) The cross of Christ encourages us to look up to heaven to see the reason for our hope of salvation. Prayer is the raising of our minds and hearts to heaven to look into the light of God’s love and to believe in his good will toward us. God does not want us to die in our sins but he wants us to live in his love.
This past year has been a particularly difficult year as we have weathered the pandemic. There is real fear around us and people have been looking down upon others as potential sources of infection. There seems to be danger everywhere, fueled by the officials that constantly point us to the large numbers of people being infected each day. It seems like only a matter of time before we are bitten by the disease ourselves. It is time for us to look up again into the light of God’s love and believe that he will see us through this and bring us to new life. God’s grace is still effective and plentiful, he can do this. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the sign of God’s love and grace and not on the serpents of sickness, sadness and sin. Keep looking up!