In this world we will have trouble. Some trouble is just part of living in a fallen, sinful world, and sometimes we bring it on ourselves – like the Israelites journeying in the desert, who despised the manna that God faithfully provided for them every morning. It’s not surprising to us that God would punish them – perhaps we might be surprised that He didn’t send worse than poisonous snakes. But the story shows that God isn’t punishing them – He is disciplining them, that they might repent and be saved. They realize pretty quickly that they have sinned by despising God’s good gifts, and that only God can save them.
God doesn’t ask for extra sacrifices, or for the people to do some sort of penance to pay for their sin – His solution is a bronze snake on a pole, and all they have to do is look at it, and they will live. It’s so easy, it doesn’t seem fair – and it’s not. God’s mercy isn’t fair. We don’t get what we deserve – Jesus did. For St. Paul writes that God desires all people to be saved, and Jesus is God’s solution. Just as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole that all might see it and live, Jesus is lifted up on the cross for the world to see, that we might believe in Him and be saved. And so Jesus comforts us in our troubles: Take heart! I have overcome the world!
The Old Testament lesson is from the book of Numbers, chapter 21, verses 4-9:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against 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 loathe this worthless food.”
Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
The Epistle lesson is from James, chapter 1, verses 22-27:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The Gospel for the fifth Sunday after Easter is from John, chapter 16, verses 23-33:
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”