Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

From Numbers (BTCB) by David L. Stubbs, commenting on Numbers 21: 4-9:

The raising of the bronze serpent occurs at a turning point in Numbers—the seventh and final rebellion of Israel before they reach the plain of Moab. While the entire incident is presented quickly and without explicit interpretation, both the fiery serpents and the raising of the bronze serpent are picked up elsewhere in scripture as important and representative. The serpents are representative of the trials and hardships of Israel in the wilderness (Deut. 8:15; Wisdom of Solomon 16:5, 10), and the bronze serpent itself was apparently preserved by the people and later placed in the Jerusalem temple (2 Kgs. 18:4). The image of the raising of the serpent is taken up by Christ himself as a figure for his own “lifting up” (John 3: 14; cf. 8:28; 12:32; 19:37), commented on with great frequency by patristic interpreters, and became an important typological image in Christian art. This is also one of the only three Numbers passages in the Revised Common Lectionary; it is read in Lent and paired with John 3:14. . . .

In contemplating the cross, Christians—like Israel looking at the bronze serpent— can see in it God’s judgment of and revelation of their sin, God’s victory over sin, and a call to faith and discipleship. But unlike the bronze serpent, which suggested a way of discipleship, Christians can see hanging on the cross the one who fulfilled that way. Christians can see that their own way through the desert has been made straight and level by the one who successfully pioneered that path, and then pray they would be united with him through the power of the spirit. At least one central meaning of the Eucharist is precisely this, that we want to take into ourselves the manna from heaven, Jesus Christ, who is our life and our salvation, so that we will have the strength and faith to be obedient on the journey. The Israelites in the desert were shown the path and learned that they needed to trust in God for their spiritual healing. Christians in Christ’s cross see the providence of God, the “plan for the fullness of time” made manifest. We pray to have that way imprinted in us yet more fully through the grace of God.

 ©2009 by David L. Stubbs. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.