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Reflection: Health Care Legislation and the Fiery Serpent

By Sonja Corbitt
March 22nd, 2010
Catholic Online (

God is inviting us to repentance even as He chastises us in our Lenten wilderness.We too, like Israel, complained of lack of "care." Now we have it.

NASHVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - On this historic day of last formalities for our horrendous new legislation, it is profoundly providential that the Old Testament reading is Numbers 21:4-10, the story of the fiery serpents, because the ancient symbol of the story, the serpent on the pole, is the symbol of the medical profession.

As they wandered in the desert, the people complained about the difficulties and deprivations of the journey. Against the leaders, they leveled accusations of lack of care, accusations which God considered against Himself and His own provision for them.

Specifically, the people complained that the manna God miraculously rained down on the desert floor to feed the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness was insubstantial and therefore "worthless." Sometimes their complaint against the manna is translated "this most vile bread." They had no appetite for the spiritual sustenance in the heavenly bread.

It had become commonplace and empty. They began looking for something else to "care" for them.

When God removed His protection from the people to prove their complaints false, they were attacked by an infestation of poisonous snakes, probably called "fiery serpents" because of the inflammation caused by their bites. Once the people acknowledged and confessed their rebellion as sin, God commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent and raise it up on a pole so that anyone bitten could look at it and be healed.

God commanded that the death-dealing instrument would be the same used to heal. Because only God could heal an epidemic of deadly snake bites through such pitifully inadequate methods, the people were chastised for their false accusations when their healing was accomplished.

We too complained of lack of "care." Now we have it.

As we languish from the hardships of the journey toward the Promised Land, do we refuse the spiritual sustenance of the Eucharist by allowing it to become commonplace and therefore spiritually unsatisfying and "worthless"?

I find this reading from today´s liturgy eerily sermonic, as though God is still inviting a griping America to repentance on this day that will surely live in democratic infamy, even as He chastises us in our Lenten wilderness through it. Have we somehow traded the Eucharist, our true sustenance and care, for health care legislation that has fatally bitten us?

We have made our proverbial bed and will certainly lie in it. As the consequences of our sin inflame us, Jesus' blood cries out from the angry cross-pole that there is still mercy. Even now. Even after the bill is signed, and the tsunami of fatal consequences begins.

It could be that the health care serpent that has bitten us might also be used by the Great Physician to heal our land, if only we would acknowledge and confess our sin this Lent.

Sonja Corbitt is a Catholic speaker, Scripture teacher and study author, and a contributing writer for Catholic Online. She is available to speak on the New Feminism, current events and your preferred theme. Visit her at for information and sample videos, or

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