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The Remedy

The people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” (Numbers 21:5)

The Prayer Before Meals: Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.  Amen

Think about this: 3 times a day, 365 days a year. That’s more than a thousand times every year we pray that little prayer. That’s a lot of gratitude. But can you imagine sitting down at the table and saying, “I’m disgusted with this wretched food”? That’s exactly what the Jews did in Numbers 21:5. The Bible calls the Jews a stiff-necked people. That means stubborn or hard-headed. They had been in the desert a long time and maybe manna wasn’t exactly tasty. But can you imagine telling God that you’re disgusted with His gifts?

Well, maybe we can imagine it. Sometimes we get tired of the way things are, and grumbling about it just seems to come naturally. We’d love to have God iron out some of the wrinkles in our lives. The problem is, that when we tell God that we just can’t take it anymore, we are not so different from those complainers in the desert all those centuries ago.

Well, God dealt with them in a powerful way. He sent snakes, lots and lots of slithering, biting snakes. Snakes are very symbolic in the Bible. They stand for the devil and for sin. So, when the Israelites saw the snakes, they also saw their own sinfulness and lack of gratitude. In Numbers 21:7 it says: “Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray to the LORD to take the serpents from us.” They realized their sin, and they repented.

The very next verse tells us that when God sent the snakes, He also provided the remedy.  “The LORD said to Moses: Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and everyone who has been bitten will look at it and recover.” The pole is also symbolic because it prefigures the cross of Christ. That’s why Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15: “And 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.” 

God didn’t send the snakes among the Jews to condemn them but to open their eyes to their own sinfulness. Neither did He, “send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

His sacrifice became our remedy.

Lord God, we are your children and we know that You love us.  Only Your love can overcome our pride and our stubbornness. Only You can take the hardness from our hearts and turn our complaining into gratitude. Open our eyes, Lord, and help us to trust You in all things.  Amen


The readings for September 14  The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

  • Numbers 21:4b-9
  • Psalms 78:1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
  • Philippians 2:6-11
  • John 3:13-17
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