Reading 1 Nm 21:4-9
Responsorial Psalm: 102: 2-3, 16-18, 19-21
Gospel Jn 8:21-30
Today is the 5th Tuesday of Lent. Easter is fast approaching, and the season of Lent is coming to its end. But as Lent wanes another season takes its place: March Madness!
It is fair to be thinking what Lent and March Madness have in common, but despite some obvious differences there are a few interesting parallels. Lent is the Christian “off-season”. For collegiate basketball players an off-season is a connotative misnomer. The off-season is when your sport is not being played, but its where you as the player improve your strength, conditioning, and habits so that when the season comes around you will be well equipped. Lent is the same. It is the time of year that Christians are asked to prepare themselves and instill good habits for the rest of the year.
But – as with any sport – Christians have to worry about injuries. But, unlike the physical injuries athletes need be concerned with, Christians have to worry about spiritual injuries i.e. sin. We find an example of this in the first reading for today, wherein the Israelites are complaining to Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert!” (Nm: 21: 5a). In the previous section (Nm 21: 1-3) God had just delivered the Canaanites to the Isrealites in a battle. However, the Isrealites forget about God in good times and are complaining in the bad – something, to which, I am sure we can all relate.
Further along in the first reading, God punishes the Isrealites for their spiritual sin with a physical ailment as well – “saraph serpents which bit the people” (Nm 21:6a). As with a physical injury one might suffer in a sport like basketball, spiritual injuries need to be addressed promptly. The injury has already occurred, to ignore it would only do more harm. But rehabilitation is difficult, physical or spiritual. It requires effort and determination to stick with the rehab, especially if it is uncomfortable: like stretching an injured muscle or going to reconciliation.
Our Catholic off-season, Lent, is when we need to address any injuries we may have been brushing off. Moses, prayed for the Israelites and the Lord responded, “Make a [bronze] saraph and mount it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live” (Nm 21: 8). Moses followed accordingly and indeed whoever had been bitten and looked at the bronze serpent lived. We too have been bitten – not physically – but spiritually by sin. Let us not “die in our sins” (Jn 8:24) as Jesus warns those in today’s gospel. For healing, we need not look to a bronze serpent mounted on a pole, but to our Lord Jesus mounted on a cross.