The book of Numbers sometimes surprises us with exciting stories. Today, we heard about the people of Israel complaining, again. In the past, God had been generous with them and given them everything that they need. He gave them manna and birds to eat, He gave them water, and perhaps most importantly He led them out of slavery and made them a people that were his own. This time, however, the people were simply complaining because they were tired of the gifts that God had given them. That was a mistake, because they were rewarded with snakes.
They realized their error and begged Moses to intercede for them. God told Moses to make a staff, mounting on it a snake, and that people who look upon it would be healed. Much imagery exists in this scene. For example, those who look upon the Crucifix are reminded of how Christ heals all our sins. This is perhaps the most important of the images. One other image that comes to mind is that modern medicine uses this symbol still. The Rod of Asclepius is used in many health organizations’ logos. While many claim it to be Greek in origin, I believe that the Hebrew story is much older. This is just one of the many ways we can see the Christian and Jewish traditions throughout even modern culture.
We can never forget that complaining is poisonous. It can cause problems and negativity, and these can create a toxic environment. The idea that complaints are like snake bites is a very apt image, because the toxic effect is similar. So let us police our lips, and avoid fruitless complaining whenever possible.
Today’s Readings: Num 21:4-9; Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21; Jn 8:21-30
Today we heard about Noah waiting for the land to dry out so that he could exit the ark. Just before our reading starts, the Genesis account tells us that the ark had come to rest on the top of Mount Ararat and that the tops of the mountains were visible. Yet, Noah could not yet leave the ark. He sent out a raven. It flew around until the was some dry land where it could perch—there was enough land for the raven to rest! Then he sent out a dove, but it came back—there wasn’t enough land for the dove to find food. He tried again after a week, and the dove returned with an olive branch—plants were growing again! The third time he sent out the dove, it did not return. The dove was able to find a home for itself! Only after all of this waiting was Noah allowed to exit the ark.
In the healing of the blind man today, something similar is happening. Jesus places his hands on the man twice before his blindness is fully healed. Why is this? Why could Jesus not simply touch the man once and heal him?
There are many reasons we can come up with, but the first I think part of the lesson in these readings is to teach us about patience. Noah had been in the ark for months, the ark was resting on the top of a mountain, and he still had to wait before leaving. The blind man encountered Jesus with faith, and knew he would be healed, but it still took some time before he was fully healed.
Everything in our lives takes time. Even waking up takes time! Like the blind man regaining his sight, we only see shapes and blobs at first, until later when we see things clearly. Trying to grow in good habits takes time, weeks and months even. One of the hardest things for me to do is to stick with a healthy diet. Until I have the patience and the strength to stick with it, it simply won’t change. When I see some delicious thing to eat, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to eat it right now. I imagine that Noah, his sons and their wives all wanted out of the ark as soon as possible—it had to have smelled like a zoo in there! —but they had to wait and persevere just a little bit longer, so that they could fully flourish when they left the ark.
Let us be like Noah and the blind man that Jesus healed, having enough faith in God that we can be patient and persevere through difficult things, knowing that God has a plan for us.