In a homily delivered on Tuesday of the fifth week of Lent, in Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis put a new spin on the episode of the bronze serpent in the desert mentioned in the Book of Numbers (21: 4–9). He said that Jesus was dirtied by sin, and implied that the serpent symbolizes our faults. Below is the exact text of the homily of the Pope in this regard:
The serpent is a symbol of sin. The serpent that kills but also a serpent that saves. And this is the Mystery of Christ. Paul, when speaking about this mystery, said that Jesus emptied himself, humiliated himself and destroyed himself in order to save us. And (what’s) even stronger, ‘he became sin’. Using this symbol, he became a serpent. This is the prophetic message of today’s reading. The Son of Man, who like a serpent, ‘became sin,’ is raised up to save us. […] the story of our redemption, this is the story of God’s love. If we want to know God’s love, let us look at the Cross, a man tortured, a God, emptied of his divinity, dirtied [stained] by sin…Sin is the work of Satan and Jesus defeats Satan by ‘becoming sin’ and from there he lifts up all of us.
Did Christ become stained in assuming our nature?
The Pope’s homily begs an important clarification, lest it be misunderstood: did become “dirtied by sin” when He assumed our nature?
The answer, according to Church teaching, is that He emptied himself and humbled himself, but was not stained: on the contrary, being innocent, He suffered for the sins of the human race to save it. Below are some quotes from various popes, saints and Sacred Scripture that unequivocally say that Christ was not stained by sin in any way:
- Saint Augustine of Hippo: “Christ loved us so much that, sinless himself, he suffered for us sinners the punishment we deserved for our sins.”
- Saint Maximus the Confessor: “God became perfect man, taking on everything that belongs to human nature except sin, and indeed sin is not part of human nature created by God.”
- St. John Paul II: “Taking the form of a slave, Christ made himself similar to men in everything but not sin.”
- Benedict XVI: “God himself wished to share in our human condition, but not in the corruption of sin.”
- Sacred Scripture: “Tested in every way, yet without sin”; “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin”; “Jesus committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
The Church’s teaching is clear: Sin is incompatible with the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ.