We have all seen the rod of Asclepius, or its common variation, the caduceus, on medical insignia throughout the world. It was the symbol of this Greek god of healing, but is also found here in our First Reading from the book of Numbers (21:4–9). It is a single or double serpent winding around a pole, and we are not sure if the Greeks or the Hebrews had it first. But surely its meaning was a universal discovery that today we would perhaps call vaccination! In short, “the cause is also the cure”! Who would have thought? It seems to be true both medically and psychologically. At any rate, we have Moses prescribing such medicine to the complaining Hebrews in the desert, who were being bit by winged/fiery serpents. The meaning and healing symbol returns again in John’s Gospel on many levels, all of them significant. The recurring phrase is, “the lifted up one.” It has now become a rallying cry for the Jesus who was raised up on the cross and thus “vaccinated us against” doing the same (3:13 and 19:37). Jesus being “lifted up” is offered as a healing icon of love to all of history (12:32), and finally, as a victory sign of the final resurrection and ascension of all the human ones, as is prefigured in today’s account about the archetypal “Human One,” Jesus (8:28). This is powerful material, just as vaccinations always are. We have a Divine Medicine brought down to a small but potent dosage so we can handle it and it can handle us! That is what true spiritual symbols always do. Remember what we said earlier in Lent: Any direct contact with God is like contact with an electric wire—it burns you unless you have some good filters and a very humble humanity to receive it. No wonder so many Catholics and Orthodox never tired of hanging images of the crucified Jesus in their homes and in their churches. We needed to “lift up” and “gaze upon” the transformative image just as Moses first did in the desert. It can and did and will change many lives and much of history.
— from the book Wondrous Encounters: Scriptures for Lent
by Richard Rohr, OFM, page 106