Theme: Spiritual Vaccination
4th Sunday of Lent
The discovery of the use of vaccines has helped us a lot. Most of us, since childhood, have been vaccinated several times – e.g. vaccinations against polio, yellow fever, chicken pox, hepatitis.
But [if not] for such vaccinations many of [us] would have been very sick, disabled or even dead by now.
Today, I want to tell you of the good news of the spiritual vaccinations we have received from Jesus Christ! Because of this spiritual vaccination, many of us are not spiritually sick, nor disabled, nor dead! Praise the Lord!
In the time of Jesus his audience were not familiar with vaccination, but they were very familiar with the story of how some of their ancestors – on the journey to the Promised Land – were saved from snake bites. According to Num. 21: 4-9, God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and those who beheld it were healed. Jesus used this story to explain how he had come to saved mankind from sin and its consequences.
Thus, we heard in today’s gospel reading that Jesus said: ‘Just as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that whoever believes might have eternal life in him’ (Jn. 3: 14-15).
We know that the picture of an enemy can upset us. Similarly someone bitten by a snake may jump from his/her seat by the sudden sight of a mere picture of a snake – don’t we have a local saying that ‘one who is ever bitten by a snake may even be afraid of a [mere] worm’?
Yet, when the Israelites were bitten by snakes, God instructed Moses to let them behold an image – ‘picture’ – of a snake, something which could have upset them. What then was God inviting them to do? He was asking them, not to be afraid of snakes, but to trust in God, whose power can immobilize or kill snakes. They were probably being invited to remember what had happened in Egypt not too long ago. There, in the palace of Pharaoh, God’s power, through the rod/staff of Moses had destroyed all the snakes of the king’s magicians.
The story of using an image of a snake to heal the people bitten by snakes is like the process of vaccination. The vaccines are made from the virus or germ that causes the disease (e.g. polio). The virus or germ is taken through a process by which it is weakened or killed, and then used to produce the vaccine, with which one is injected. One’s body then develops immunity against the disease (e.g. polio).
So, in the case of those Israelites, one could say that the harmless bronze serpent was like the weakened or killed virus or germ. By faith, then, they were vaccinated against snake bites.
Now, Jesus says, ‘just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that whoever believes …’
We are very familiar with the Scriptural verse which says, ‘the wages of sin is death.’ Today’s second reading affirms this fact and goes on to tell us how we have been saved: ‘even when we were dead in sins, God made us alive through Christ … For by grace you have been saved through faith’ (Eph. 2: 5-8). So we can see sin as the virus or germ of our suffering and death. Jesus, to take away this virus (sin) had to take it upon himself and nail it to the cross of Calvary (cf. Col. 2:14). By his death and resurrection Jesus had weakened or destroyed the potency of sin – the virus of suffering and death.
As the Israelites, by beholding the bronze serpent, had faith in God who vaccinated them against snake bites, so also by faith in Christ crucified, we are vaccinated with the vaccine of grace against the consequences of sin – suffering and death.
Thus, St. Paul says: ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God… We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called Jews and Greeks [Africans and Europeans, Ghanaians and Togolese], Christ [crucified] is the power and wisdom of God’ to save us (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24).
But, you may ask, if we have been vaccinated against suffering and death, why do we still suffer and die? In the normal medical vaccination, the body system may take a while to adjust to the vaccine; sometimes some people even have reactions like fever. Similarly, if we are suffering today, it is like an initial fever, telling us that our souls are adjusting to the spiritual vaccination.
Jesus, the Divine Physician, who has vaccinated us through faith, cannot err. So every bodily sickness or pain or suffering we experience is an assurance that our souls are adjusting well and our spiritual immune system is getting stronger and stronger.
So, I pray that every sickness or suffering you and I experience would make our souls healthy for heaven, and that our death will prove that we have been eternally immunized against the fires of hell! Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis