In this fourth day of reading from Psalm 107, meditate for a moment on God’s mercy.
Today’s reading from Numbers recounts the problems encountered by the Israelites because of the all-too-human tendencies towards impatience and grumbling. We are creatures who are quick to notice a difference between things as they are, and things as we would like them to be – at least when we personally feel the effects of that gap. The Israelites encounter poisonous serpents as a consequence of their actions, but it is fair to say that the poison already lay in their attitudes. To effect the healing of the people, Moses is instructed to make and lift up a bronze serpent.
The continuation of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus references that story from Numbers. Immediately prior to the most famous verse in all the Bible (John 3:16), Jesus explains that he is to perform the same function as Moses’ bronze serpent, only on a much grander scale. His elevation will heal the world, for, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) The poison and sickness of our self-centeredness will be healed only by looking to the embodiment of God’s self-giving and sacrificial love.
As today’s passage from Ephesians emphasizes, this looking away from ourselves is not an act of our will, but a gift of God’s grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…“ (Ephesians 2:8). This selection closes by reminding and reassuring us that God’s salvation is transformative. It changes hearts, and minds, and lives. Even though we are not saved by our “good” works, we are saved “for them.” When Paul writes, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (2:10) we are hearing the promise that by God’s power we are saved to be able to become the person God has made us to be. It is a wonderful, and joyous hope.