“In those days the people added infidelity to infidelity […] they preferred darkness to light, but God, the merciful, had compassion and decided to give his only son in salvation of the world”.
How direct and clear are the readings this Sunday. They contain a real verdict: God wants to give us eternal life and, to be worthy of it, he wants us to choose to refuse darkness and believe in Him, who is light. The parallel between the brass snake lifted up by Moses and Jesus’s crucifixion is evident, as is the similarity between the Israelites, who were bitten by the poisoning serpents and all of us today, who are continuously attacked by the old serpent – the devil.
The cures appear identical: to fix our eyes upon the pole and be healed. But the serpent of Moses was only a piece of brass, with no saving power in itself; whereas Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh and bone, a Lamb sacrificed for our salvation.
Two weeks ago, the scriptures recounted another sacrifice requested, but not accomplished, since the hand of Abraham was prevented from committing any sacrifice by God himself. It is not necessary to be parents to imagine that, in case of danger, the main instinct is to give our life to save a son, not the contrary. With His son instead, God goes beyond any human measure of love and offers us the light so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.
Here is the crucial point: we have to make a choice. We are requested to make a decision. In the encounter with Jesus, we have to choose to stay in the light or remain in the darkness. Certainly we have all experienced dark moments in our lives when the heart is dominated by resentment, pride, self-seeking love, and sin. Subsequently, we remain separated, closed, with eyes shut, in the darkness, where the serpents live.
But leaving apart the metaphoric sense of darkness, have you ever experienced the condition of a pitch dark? Years ago, I made a trip to Kenya, Africa, where life is far different from our experience of occidental comforts. A time was set to get up in the middle of the night to get ready for a photographic safari.
Due to my excitement, I woke up earlier than the established time and experienced a moment of total anguish. My eyes were wide open and I had an inner perception of myself, but a few seconds after the return of consciousness, I sat on the bed waving my hand and … I could not see it! Outside, there was no light, no moon, no space bound. For a few moments, the normal categories of space and time disappeared and I felt disoriented, petrified, lost.
My heart opened only when I saw far away a feeble light of someone else’s room who was getting up for the appointment. Isn’t this an identical sensation that we have in dark moments? Steady, scared, suspended, disoriented and not knowing which route to take. God is the way, the light, the answer. It is up to us to follow Him.
Saul was blind, but his eyes were opened when he met Christ in the baptism. He made a choice and suddenly he could see. We, like Saint Paul, have to make a choice and recall that sacred moment of our baptism when a slim candle is symbolically lit to the Paschal candle to enlighten our lives forever. To remain in this choice, it is necessary to lift our glance, fixing our eyes upon the cross.
Let’s pray for all of us to remain in the light, for those, like Nicodemus, who understood who Jesus was but kept it secret, and for those who do not believe and reject the mystery of the cross and prefer to remain in the darkness.
Maria Soggiu has lived in the challenging Eternal City of Rome for 15 years. She is a wife to Riccardo for 9 years, mom of two little kids and an administrative assistant to 250 seminarians at the North American College. She has many interests but not a minute free to take care of them so, after many trials to expand the 24 hour day, she decided that the best thing to do is to get up earlier and earlier in the morning. When she left her original town of Viterbo she was not aware of living a bit in the dark, but in Rome she met Jesus in many places and people and discovered the bright light.