“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” (Numbers 21:5). Our first reading today takes us back to our forefathers in faith. God was leading them on a journey to the Promised Land. They saw the mighty deeds God did for them in the land of Egypt especially how he delivered them mightily from their pursuers when they were about to cross the Red Sea.
As Adam Smith would say, we humans are insatiable creatures. Our wants are generally unlimited, with every desire met comes a craving for another and another and then another. Dissatisfaction is the root of all sin, and sin itself is an act of rebellion against God. The Israelites who once rejoiced exceedingly at the sight of manna now had the effrontery to refer to that same manna as “worthless food.” Is this not the same thing that happens in our own lives when we become dissatisfied with what God has done for us or what we have?
When we fail to thank God properly, we find ourselves complaining about virtually everything and soon fall into the temptation of speaking against God. We talk about our situation as if our case is the worst or as if God is some irresponsible father who doesn’t care. This was the same attitude that merited the appearance of fiery serpents in the Israelite camp.
Have you ever noticed how on certain days, you keep experiencing one sad event after another? Say, you wake up complaining about electricity, you pick your phone and frown at the messages you see, you realize your water heater has suddenly stopped working, next thing you are late for work, a mad driver brushes your car by the side, your colleagues at work just annoy you unnecessarily… things just continue going from bad to worse on and on? These are examples of fiery serpents.
However, there is Good news. Our ancient ancestors soon realized their error and repented. They were complaining about food only to see snakes. They now realized they have been so ungrateful. They cried to Moses: “We have sinned…!” God pitied them and asked Moses to make a bronze serpent as a SIGN. As powerful as the bronze serpent was in curing the people of the snake bites, it remained only a sign. The real deal would come later when Jesus himself would be hanged upon a cross for our salvation. The bronze serpent was never an idol, it was just a sign that got its real power from Jesus Christ. As Jesus reveals in today’s Gospel passage “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He” (John 8:28).
Keep a Crucifix in your home, keep one in your car, keep one in your office, carry one with you wherever you go. Whenever you are feeling ungrateful or unlucky, whenever you see yourself complaining or feel like shouting at God, bring out the Crucifix and remember the Israelite-experience. Look at the Crucifix and tell yourself that God has already done so much for you by letting His Son die on your behalf, that you really have no reason to complain. Look at the Crucifix and from the depth of your heart, just say “THANK YOU.” This would miraculously change everything for you in one instance.