serpent in the desert

The Gospel for tomorrow and the snakes in the desert confront us with a strange image

Luther wrote –

This is a great and miraculous work. It is not accepted by the world or our reason, but it is scorned and derided by them. In fact, it does seem ridiculous that merely looking at a serpent should effect a cure. Reason would have been prone to say: “You will never be able to stare those serpents away. Rather take a pair of tongs or other tools and use force to drive the serpents away. What a great idea—to look at the serpent! Even a cow could stare at the serpent—but how could that help her?” Looking or gazing at an object seems so silly. It is an easy task to perform. And yet those who obeyed the Word and believed the promise were cured. Just looking at the serpent was easy. But believing that this simple and superficial opening of the eyes and looking at the pole and the bronze serpent should have healing power against the snakes’ venom—this was difficult. In itself there is nothing easier than to raise your eyes to someone; and without a doubt there were many Jews who mocked Moses and said: “Well, if the serpents cannot be driven away with knife and awl, with water and sword, how can it ever be accomplished by this inane looking at the serpent?” This is the attitude of our schismatic spirits and sects today who despise and minimize Baptism and Holy Communion. They say: “What can the water, the wine, and the bread achieve?” But it is characteristic of our God to perform great things through insignificant, humble, and odd means. Faith, I suppose, also seems insignificant to our papists. “Faith?” they say. “After all, what does faith amount to? Faith does not suffice. You must also perform good works, don a cowl, fast, pray, and give alms.” All this has such a semblance of piety that they are led to believe: “Oh, faith is such a simple and plain thing; you must also do good works!” But just try it, and you will find out how easy it is to believe! Before long the devil will appear on the scene and whisper into your ear: “See here, do you suppose that it is possible to be saved in such an easy way?”