Pope's Morning Homily: On the Mystery of Jesus, 'Become Sin,' Lifted Up for Our Healing

At Casa Santa Marta, Reflects on Parallel With Serpent Lifted Up by Moses to Save People of God

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Using the day’s readings from the Book of Numbers and the Gospel of St. John, Pope Francis’ homily today at the Casa Santa Marta reflected on the link between Jesus’ suffering on the cross and the serpents sent to the People of God as a punishment.
“The Lord said to Moses: ‘make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.’ It’s a mystery: God doesn’t kill the serpents but leaves them alone. But if one of these (serpents) harms a person, look at that bronze serpent and he will be healed.  Lift up the serpent,” the Pope said, according to Vatican Radio.
The Pope noted that this verb, “lift up” is at the heart of the discussion between Christ and the Pharisees described in the reading from St. John. At a certain point, Jesus says: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realise that I AM.”
First of all, he explained, ‘I AM’ is also the name that God used to describe himself and gave to Moses for communicating with the people of Israel.  And, then there is that recurring expression: ‘Lift up the Son of Man…”

God’s annihilation 

“The serpent is a symbol of sin. The serpent that kills but also a serpent that saves. And this is the Mystery of Christ.  Paul, when speaking about this mystery, said the Jesus emptied himself, humiliated himself and annihilated himself in order to save us.  And (what’s) even stronger, ‘he became sin.  Using this symbol, he became a serpent. This is the prophetic message of today’s reading. The Son of Man, who like a serpent, ‘became sin,’ is raised up to save us.”
Pope Francis went on to explain that this is “the story of our redemption, this is the story of God’s love. If we want to know God’s love, let us look at the Cross, a man being tortured” a God, “emptied of his divinity,” “dirtied by sin.” But at the same time, he concluded, a God who through his self-annihilation, defeats for ever the true name of evil, that which the Book of Revelation calls the ancient serpent.
“Sin is the work of Satan and Jesus defeats Satan by “becoming sin” and from there he lifts up all of us. The Cross is not an ornament or a work of art with many precious stones as we see around us. The Cross is the Mystery of God’s annihilation for love.  And the serpent that makes a prophecy in the desert is salvation, it is raised up and whoever looks at it is healed.  And this is not done with a magic wand by a God who does these things: No! This is done through the suffering of the Son of Man, through the suffering of Jesus Christ.”
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Readings provided by the US bishops’ conference:

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Reading 1 NM 21:4-9

From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road,
to bypass the land of Edom.
But with their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,
which bit the people so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.”
Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,
and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Responsorial Psalm PS 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21

R. (2) O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
O LORD, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come to you.
Hide not your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
in the day when I call, answer me speedily.
R. O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
R. O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
R. O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you.

Verse Before The Gospel

The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower;
all who come to him will live for ever.

Gospel JN 8:21-30

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“I am going away and you will look for me,
but you will die in your sin.
Where I am going you cannot come.”
So the Jews said,
“He is not going to kill himself, is he,
because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?”
He said to them, “You belong to what is below,
I belong to what is above.
You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins.”
So they said to him, “Who are you?”
Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning.
I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true,
and what I heard from him I tell the world.”
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.
So Jesus said to them,
“When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,
because I always do what is pleasing to him.”
Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

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