“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” — John 12:32
Sometimes the Lord unfolds a situation that I can cling to as part of His divine revelation. I went back to my specialist for a follow-up check after my surgery on a cyst and asked him how many stitches I had. He confirmed that he did 40-minute stitches! All the while I thought I only had 4, according to the nurse who discharged me after the procedure. Wow, 40! I wondered about the significance of this number.
Around the time this was happening, a Jubilee Cross in celebration of 50 years of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal was being carried to 40 parishes in 40 weeks, to show God’s love for all people. I was asked to assist in this four-day visit of the big cross in our church. Initially, I did not want to participate actively for it meant sacrifice in my already busy schedule. But when my issue of 40 stitches was revealed, I was deeply humbled by God’s protective kindness and the least I could do to show my gratitude was serving Him in this great gathering in our parish.
Numbers can often have meaning in the Bible. Most spiritual writers say that the number 40 usually has to do with testing. From Jesus to the children of Israel in the wilderness, the number 40 shows that testing, trials, and probation are sometimes associated with this number. As has been said, a faith that is not tested cannot be trusted.
There are many examples of the Bible’s use of the number 40 that stress the theme of testing or judgment. The number 40 appears 146 times in the Scripture. In the Old Testament, when God destroyed the earth with water, He caused it to rain 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:12). After Moses killed the Egyptian, he fled to Midian, where he spent 40 years in the desert tending flocks (Acts 7:30). Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). Moses interceded on Israel’s behalf for 40 days and 40 nights (Deuteronomy 9:18, 25). The Law specified a maximum number of lashes a man could receive for a crime, setting the limit at 40 (Deuteronomy 25:3). The Israelite spies took 40 days to spy out Canaan (Numbers 13:25). The Israelites wandered for 40 years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). Before Samson’s deliverance, Israel served the Philistines for 40 years (Judges 13:1). Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to slay him (1 Samuel 17:16). When Elijah fled from Jezebel, he travelled 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).The number 40 also appears in the prophecies of Ezekiel (4:6; 29:11-13) and Jonah (3:4). In the New Testament, Jesus was tempted for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2). There were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3). (Source: gotquestions.org)
Some of the clients I counsel often share their feelings of unworthiness, and question God’s love for they admit to being “prodigious sinners.” They could not believe that the Lord will fully forgive them for their inordinate sins. I understand how they feel. Like them, although I confess my sins regularly at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there is a part of me that still condemns me for the deadly sins I committed in the past.
So the good Lord in His mercy confirmed that this is now over and full forgiveness has been granted to me. He allowed me to have that large and unusual cyst to be surgically removed and He mended me with 40 stitches!
We are admonished, however, not to place too much significance on numerology, trying to find a special meaning behind every number in the Bible. A number in the Bible is simply a number, including the number 40. God does not call us to search for secret meanings, hidden messages, or codes in the Bible. There is more than enough truth in the plain words of the Scripture to meet all our needs and make us “complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16).
In the Catholic website, it is explained that the number 40 in the Scripture is not only meant to represent a long period of time but a transition from unholy to holy, a period of purification, a sanctification. This is a great relief to me. I am now peaceful about my total forgiveness of sins past that I have truly repented from. If I look back, it is only recently that I felt somehow “washed” and “made holy” by the blood of Jesus, altogether 40 years to this date. I know what it now means to be a new creation, and I do not need any further proof. Jesus on the Cross says it all.
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