St Augustine of AfricaScripture says that death was not God’s doing (Wisdom 1:13), and that he takes no pleasure in the destruction of the living.

[…] How then does it continue? It was through the devil’s envy that death entered the world.

The devil could not force upon man the death he held before his eyes; he had no power to deter­mine the human will. All he had was his own cunning and persua­sive skills.

Without your consent, the devil could have done noth­ing to harm you; it was that consent which brought death upon you.

Though born mortal of mortal flesh, it was from an immortal state that we were brought to mortality.

Since Adam all human beings have been subject to death.

Even Jesus, Son of God, Word of God through whom all things were made, the only Son equal to the Father, was made subject to death; for the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Because he accepted death, death itself was hung on the cross, while humankind was freed from death.

What took place symbolically in times of old was recalled by the Lord when he said:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

[…] When the Israelites were in the desert, they were struck down by bites they received from serpents, and death claimed countless victims. This was the stroke of God, scourging and correcting them for their instruction.

A great mystery, prefiguring something yet to come, was thus revealed, as the Lord himself testifies in this passage, ensuring that it should bear no interpretation other than the one he, the Truth, gives about himself.

For the Lord had bidden Moses to fashion a bronze serpent, lift it up on a pole in the desert, and tell the Israelites that all who were bitten by a serpent should fix their eyes on the serpent raised up on the pole.

What does this serpent lifted on high signify? The Lord’s death on the cross.

Death came into being through a serpent, and so the figure of a serpent is its symbol.

But whereas the serpent’s bite was deadly, our Lord’s death is life-giving. Is not Christ life itself?

And yet Christ died. But in the death of Christ, it was death that met its end.  Life by dying slew death, the fullness of life swallowed up death, in the body of Christ death was destroyed.

This is what we shall proclaim at the resurrection when we sing in triumph, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

But in the meantime, to find healing for our sins, let us fix our eyes on Christ crucified.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): On St John’s Gospel, 12, 10-11 (CCL 36:126-127); 128); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Monday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 2.

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