We are on a pilgrim journey

LENT 2020 – Day 35

Readings: Num 21: 4-9; Ps 101: 2-3, 16-18, 19-21; Jn 8: 21-30

In the forty-year journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites remained in the wilderness longer than expected. They sometimes went round in circles. For example, when the people of Edom (bordering ancient Israel, now south-west Jordan) refused them passage, they took a route round the Moabite mountain. Since the place offered very little food and water, God gave them manna which they soon dubbed “worthless food”. God was indignant, and mortal reptile bites in that serpent-infested terrain were the punishment.

Interestingly, when Moses sought forgiveness on the behalf of his people, God commanded him to devise a bronze serpent. So what was God’s rationale? Wasn't this creature always known to be accursed above all others? Was He recommending a cult image? Obviously, the replica was harmless and meant to do good, just as Jesus Christ Himself, holy and harmless, would bear the weight of sin and save humankind. The serpent came to symbolise the Cross, and those of us who look upon the Crucified One acknowledge our sins and are saved (Jn 3: 14-17).

That’s precisely what today’s Gospel reading says: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am He.” That's how Jesus went all out to make known His identity, using His Father’s typical self-introduction to Moses in the encounter of the burning bush: “I am who I am”. He also called Himself the Bread of Life; the Light of the World; the Door; the Good Shepherd; the Resurrection and the Life; the Way, the Truth and the Life; and the Vine – and He is who He is! It is as though a last effort to win the people over to His side before His death, which was imminent.

It is therefore imperative that we know our God. He never ceases to remind His people that He has created us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and to be happy with Him for ever. Well, if we internalise all of this, our day-to-day suffering will cease to trouble us; worldliness will hardly attract us; and our “daily bread” will suffice and make us happy.... Aren’t we sometimes impatient like the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land? Don’t we seek quick-fix solutions to problems? Let not temptations assail us. We are on a pilgrim journey on earth; our real treasure lies in Heaven.