(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis said the story of God’s love for us can be found on the Cross where Jesus emptied himself of his divinity and dirtied himself with sin in order to save humanity. He said that the biblical story of salvation features the serpent, an animal he describes as both a powerful symbol of damnation and mysteriously of redemption as well. The Pope was speaking at his morning Mass on Tuesday at the Santa Marta Residence.
The mystery of the serpent
Using the day’s readings from the Book of Numbers and the gospel of St. John, Pope Francis’s homily reflected on the link between the meaning of Jesus’ annihilation of himself on the Cross and the story of how the people of Israel implored Moses to pray to God to take away the serpents that had been sent among them as punishment by the Lord.
Pope Francis pointed out that the symbol of the serpent features twice in this story from the Book of Numbers.
“The Lord said to Moses: ‘make a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.’ It’s a mystery: God doesn’t kill the serpents but leaves them alone. But if one of these (serpents) harms a person, look at that bronze serpent and he will be healed. Lift up the serpent.”
The Pope noted that this verb, ‘lift up’ is at the heart of the argument between Christ and the Pharisees described in the reading by the gospel of St. John. At a certain point, Jesus says: ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realise that I AM.” First of all, he explained, ‘I AM’ is also the name that God used to describe himself and gave to Moses for communicating with the people of Israel. And, then there is that recurring expression: ‘Lift up the Son of Man…”
“The serpent is a symbol of sin. The serpent that kills but also a serpent that saves. And this is the Mystery of Christ. Paul, when speaking about this mystery, said the Jesus emptied himself, humiliated himself and destroyed himself in order to save us. And (what’s) even stronger, ‘he became sin. Using this symbol, he became a serpent. This is the prophetic message of today’s reading. The Son of Man, who like a serpent, ‘became sin,’ is raised up to save us.”
Pope Francis went on to explain that this is “the story of our redemption, this is the story of God’s love. If we want to know God’s love, let us look at the Cross, a man tortured” a God, “emptied of his divinity,” “dirtied by sin.” But at the same time, he concluded, a God who through his self-annihilation, defeats forever the true name of evil, that Revelation calls 'the ancient serpent.'
“Sin is the work of Satan and Jesus defeats Satan by “becoming sin” and from there he lifts up all of us. The Cross is not an ornament or a work of art with many precious stones as we see around us. The Cross is the Mystery of God’s annihilation for love. And the serpent that makes a prophecy in the desert is salvation, it is raised up and whoever looks at it is healed. And this is not done with a magic wand by a God who does these things: No! This is done through the suffering of the Son of Man, through the suffering of Jesus Christ.”