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Lift High the Cross
Gospel Reflection for Thursday, September 14, 2023
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
"No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
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."
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
The “lifting up” of the bronze serpent by Moses in the desert has been a source of confusion and interest for many centuries. Protestants who claim that Catholics “worship statues” condemn all of our iconography. They state angrily, “You shall make for yourself no graven image!” Yet, the same Moses to whom God gave this commandment against idolatry was also told by God to make a bronze serpent and to hold it up before the people so that everyone who looked upon it would live. By Protestant knowledge, God must have forbade idolatry and then commanded it! What they fail to understand is that God did not forbid the making oc sculptures, but the worship of idols. The same God commanded the construction of many statues objects to aid in religious devotion and worship in the construction of the Ark of the Covenant and in the Temple. One may use religious objects to aid in the worship of God, by reminding them of holy things and direct the mind toward heaven, without worshiping them. That is the role of the Crucifix, and statues of angels and saints, and even stained glass windows in Catholic Churches.
But, what was the meaning of a serpent? After all, the serpent is a symbol of Satan. Could God have commanded Moses to make a satanic symbol and for His people to pay it reverence? Certainly not, but such questions have entered many minds. I do not claim to have the correct answers. Some have speculated that this serpent may have been a symbol of one of the Tribes or family lineages of Israel. I think though… and much Catholic writing agrees, that this serpent was symbolic of the curse of sin. The people had sinned and were being plagued by poisonous snakes. The corolation to Jesus’ crucifixion is that the Law of Moses states that anyone who is hung upon a tree (or crucified on a cross) is cursed. The bronze serpent was a symbol of the curse and penalty of sin. Jesus took upon Himself the curse and punishment due our sins under the Law.
The prophets said that our Lord would be lifted up and that all would “look upon Him whom you have pierced.” Perhaps the message of the bronze serpent was that the Hebrew people would look at it and realize that they had been led astray by the same serpent who tricked our first parents and that the penalty of death and damnation would be their fate if they did not turn to God. When we look at Jesus on the cross, we see that penalty and we realize that He bore it for us. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. That is why it is so important that we, as Catholics, display the Crucifix in our Church as opposed to the empty cross that Protestants use. We do not worship statues. We look upon Him who was raised up and pierced. Jesus and His sacrifice must be ever present in our minds and our hearts.
An empty cross is a holy symbol, but just a symbol. We must see Jesus on the cross, bleeding, weeping, in agony for our sins, His arms outstretched to receive us. In His death is our life, in His pain our joy, in His love our salvation. We do not worship statues any more than we would mistake a sign pointing the way to a restaurant for the restaurant itself – that would be absurd… as all Protestant charges against the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by Jesus Christ Himself and guaranteed against all error are, if only one reads the Bible in context and employs the logic mind God gave us.
Judson Carroll is the author of several books, including his newest, Confirmation, an Autobiography of Faith. It is Available in paperback on Amazon:
His new podcast is The Uncensored Catholic https://www.spreaker.com/show/the-uncensored-catholic