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NUMBERS 21:4-9

PSALM 102:1-2.15-20

JOHN 8:21-30

It seems that in today's First Reading, the Israelites who wandered through the wilderness did not experience God as a safe and comfortable companion.

They show how uncomfortable they are by asking God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loath this worthless food." These are strong words of complaint. These strong words of complaint make God's response equally strong. In the great showdown with Pharaoh in Exodus 1-14, God sends ten vicious plagues to show the superiority of the God of Israel over Egypt's gods, including Pharaoh.

In the Wilderness, God directs the Israelites during the day with a pillar of cloud and with a pillar of fire at night. At Mt. Sinai God thunders in smoke and fire to show his presence.

Despite these great displays of God's power, the Israelites do not have much confidence that God will, infact, deliver them into the Promised Land.

These are not images of God that call them to snuggle up in God's everlasting arms, safe and secure from all harm. The First Reading specifies that God sends the snake but never does God or the narrator call the snake a punishment. It is the people themselves who draw that conclusion. Maybe the Israelites are into the fallacy of: after this or because of this...this happens to us..

We too today like Israelites are left to draw our own conclusions whenever something happens to us. Is God punishing the people with the snakes? Did the people deserve it? Do we have reasons to complain to God? What we learn from this incident is that we need to come out of our comfort zones regarding the nature of God and see that God has an unpredictable presence in our lives which is also a mysterious presence. We learn that a domesticated, unmoving God does not just pull people out of slavery through the wilderness and into the Promised Land , no, we need God who is not aloof but is on the loose for our own good.

The unpredictability of God in this story is seen when God does not give the people what they ask of or for. They want Moses to get God to take away the serpents from them; but the serpents do not go away nor do they stop biting.

The people are still bitten but they live. Deliverance do not come in the way that they expect but through what seems at first harmful to them. How are we to deal with unpredictable people and unpredictable circumstances and above all how are we to deal with God who is unpredictable especially when we have always had a picture of God who is loving, merciful, forgiving, faithful and hopeful. In such situations our focus should be on God and not on the situation here represented by the bronze serpent that we can see and understand but let us see that God loves and heals faithfully in God's own ways.


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