March 8

Numbers 21:4-9

“So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” vs. 9

Given the general distaste for snakes that exists among humans, it can be surprising to learn that the symbol used to designate medical professionals is a serpent coiled around an upright rod or stake. It’s origin is traced by scholars to the rod of Asclepius, the staff associated with the Greek god popularly connected with medicine and healing. It’s somewhat surprising to learn that the Hebrews had a similar story that they connected with a wilderness incident involving Moses. The common element is the serpent. According to their recollections the bronze replica of a dreaded killer, by the grace of God, became the instrument of healing for people who had been snakebit. For centuries after, there’s evidence that the Hebrews continued to use the serpent on a pole as an object of cultic worship, though ultimately the practice was discontinued. For early Christians this story from Numbers was perfect for understanding what had happened with the death of Jesus on the cross. And after a few centuries the image of Jesus on the cross came to dominate church sanctuaries in every land. The message was unmistakable:The crucifix (Body of Christ on the cross) was balm for all our woes. In looking to him we are healed through the forgiveness of our sins.

Thought for the Day: What does a crucifix mean for me?

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