First Reading: 2 Chr 36:14-16. 19-23; Psalm: 137. R. v. 6ab; Second Reading: Eph 2:4-10; Gospel: Jn 3:14-21



How does the medical symbol represent Jesus on the cross? - Quora

Very many of us are familiar with the medical symbol of a staff entwined by a snake. Actually, there are two of them. There is one with a longer staff entwined by a snake. And there is another with a short staff capped with wings and entwined by two snakes facing each other. The former is the Rod of Asclepius belonging to Aesculapius, the Greek god associated with healing and medicine. While the latter is Caduceus, the staff of Hermes, the Greek messenger god. Caduceus, which is often mistaken as a symbol of healing in the medical field is actually a symbol of peace that got entwined by two snakes while attempting to separate them from a fight according to legend. The right symbol for healing is the Rod of Asclepius.

But why should a snake, a poisonous creature be used ironically as a symbol for healing? It could be because the Rod of Asclepius was claimed to have been used for healing by Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Another reason is that a snake’s ability to shed its skin is a sign of longevity and immortality. Snakes also have the potency to convalesce from that lethargic stage of skin shedding to rapid activity; a sign of their ability to recover from illnesses. It could also be as a result of its early use in the Bible which dates back to 1400 BC when Moses used a bronze serpent erected on a pole to heal the rebellious Israelites who were dying from snake bites. Whatever be the reason, the point remains that historically, the image of a snake is a powerful symbol of healing.

In our gospel reading of today, Christ identified the bronze serpent of Moses as a foretype of his cross of salvation. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14-15). Again, why would God use the image of a serpent to heal his rebellious people? And why should Christ use the analogy of a serpent in comparison to his cross of salvation? Isn’t the serpent a poisonous creature depicted as Satan in the scripture that deceived our first parents to sin and consequently the origin of death?

If we went back to the incident of the bronze serpent in the wilderness in Numbers chapter twenty one; we would see that the people of Israel rebelled and turned against God and consequently began to die from the bites of poisonous snakes. This explains that turning away from God is poisonous venom leading to spiritual death. When we turn against God, we become our own serpent poisoning ourselves with our sinful venomous deeds. However, to save his people, God used the same serpent that poisoned and killed his people to heal them. But this very serpent was harmless and specially recreated for the purpose of healing. It must hang above the other deadly serpents to distinguish itself and to show its superiority and dominance over them.

In like manner, to save us from the deadly poison of sin which we brought upon ourselves by our disobedience; God offered his incarnate Son born in our own image and likeness to save us. But this son of God – Christ Jesus, is spotless and blameless unlike us who have become our own serpents poisoning ourselves with our venomous sinful deeds. Jesus would be raised up on the cross to reveal his victory over sin and death. “Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Pt 2:24). “For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). Christ, by his death on the cross absorbed our poison of sin and gave us eternal life in exchange.

Christ emphasised in our gospel reading of today “that whoever believes in him (raised upon the cross) should not perish but have eternal life.” (vs 16). He also went on to say that “He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (vs 18). Now, this does not imply that people of other religion or faith are doomed to be condemned. Judgement and condemnation are for those who prefer darkness to light. That is, those who prefer violence over peace, hatred over love, resentment over forgiveness, meanness over generosity. So clearly, God does not condemn us; we are the ones who condemn ourselves by our choices.

“And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (vs 19). Judgement and condemnation comes upon those who do evil; those who turn their back on God. Our first reading of today resonates this fact. The reason Israel was taken into captivity by the Babylonians was as a result of their persistent refusal to listen to the prophets and repent from their sins. They suffered captivity for seventy years as a result but the Lord showed them mercy and brought them back to their land through Cyrus, king of Persia. Salvation does not depend solely on faith in Jesus Christ. Deeds of light are the only authentic proof of true faith in Christ Jesus.

Every fourth Sunday of lent is called the ‘Laetare’ (Rejoice) Sunday. We rejoice today because the salvific event of the cross that brought light and redemption to our world is very close. However, our rejoicing will be useless if we do not leverage on the healing and the salvation of the cross of Christ. And there is no better way to do this than through repentance and reconciliation with God our Father. The sacraments of the Church give us the opportunity to do this; an avenue where in faith we encounter Christ and look unto him for healing and restoration. Let us seize this opportunity in this season of lent.

With the death of Christ on the cross, the Rod of Asclepius, the Caduceus and the bronze serpent of Moses becomes useless. The image of the only begotten Son of God on the cross has now become our real symbol of healing and salvation. Because on that cross the Church was born. On that cross the sacrament was given. And on that cross our world is redeemed.


Lord Jesus, may our faith in your paschal mystery never fail. And may we grow in the understanding that true faith in you is made visible in works of light. Amen.

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