“…whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”
Today’s First Reading is proclaimed each year on September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This passage from Numbers, then, setting before us the Israelites in their sinfulness during the Exodus, foreshadows us as sinners during Lent.
The pole on which Moses mounts the bronze serpent foreshadows the Cross. More importantly, the bronze serpent foreshadows Jesus crucified. This latter connection might seem hard to grasp, or even cruel to say regarding our Savior, unless we forget what St. Paul teaches us about Jesus in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For our sake [the Father] made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
However, in every Old Testament foreshadowing of the New, there is something vital lacking. Here, “the children of Israel” recognize that it’s because of their sins that serpents bit many, bringing death. The bronze serpent brings healing to them, but does not take away their sins, or rescue those who have already died. In this, the bronze serpent brings only further life in this world. It does not, as Christ crucified does, bring forgiveness of sins or life in the world to come.