Tuesday April 8, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Fifth Week of Lent


Reading (Numbers 21:4-9)  Gospel (St. John 8:21-30)


There are a couple of things in today’s readings that we want to consider. First of all, we see from the Book of Numbers the people sinning against the Lord, and the Lord sending these seraph serpents that bit the people and many of them died. It is not that so much that we want to look at as what happened with the people. You notice that after they get bit by the serpents and they start to die, only then do they say, “We have sinned against the Lord.” It is exactly the problem we have today. Among many of our young people, the only sin is getting caught. You can do whatever you want these days, but if you get caught then you have to confess what you have done; otherwise, there is no problem. Well, that was the difficulty with the people of Israel. They could complain against God all they wanted, but as soon as they started getting bit and dying, well, then they acknowledged that what they did was wrong. But in the meantime, they just kept on sinning and it did not seem to bother them at all until suddenly they got caught in their sin.


But the other thing to recognize is the way that God deals with it. He gives the people a way out rather than just simply taking the whole thing away. In other words, you notice that God did not take the serpents away. He simply said to Moses, “Make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Whenever anyone is bitten, if they look at that bronze serpent then they will be healed.” He could have said, “All right, since I sent the serpents into the camp, I’ll just take them away and the plague will be over.” But He did not. The people continued to get bit, but then they would look at the bronze serpent and they would be healed.


And so, when we then look at the Gospel reading and Our Lord tells us that when He is lifted up from the earth then we will believe that He is God, notice that He does not simply take away the sin or the ability to sin or even the effects of sin, but rather what He does is He puts the Lord upon a pole and we have to look upon Him. And whenever we look upon Him, we can be healed. It is not the way we would anticipate that God ought to work. That is always our problem: We think we know how God ought to do things and it does not usually happen that way. So in this case too. He leaves us with our sinfulness. He leaves us dealing with the effects of our sinfulness. Then He gives us a way out of it, but He does not just simply remove all of that from us. We have to work to get rid of that.


That is the important thing to be able to recognize, that there is only one way. When the people asked Jesus, “Who are you?” He said, “I have told you from the beginning, and now I have much to say about you in condemnation,” because they refused to believe. And so it is with us. If we think about the Gospel readings that we will hear in a week and a half, we hear the people say, “Come down from that cross and then we will believe in you.” He could have done that – and that would not have required a whole lot of faith on our part. But instead, to look upon Someone Who is hung up on the Cross and dying in human weakness and to believe requires a lot on our part. That is precisely the point. Whenever we look upon Him, we will be healed. Whenever we believe and accept that He is Who He says He is – that is, that He is I AM – then we will be healed. But it requires that faith, that faith to recognize His human weakness and the faith to recognize the power of God working through that human weakness, the faith to recognize that He does not work the way that we think He ought to work. But rather, He chooses to work the way that He knows will be the very best for us. And the way that is the very best is to believe, to look upon Him as He is raised up from the earth, to believe, and to be healed.


*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.