Friday, March 19, 2010

"If I Be Lifted Up"

This week's scriptures are Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:1-17.

It's Friday evening. Late for me to be writing this blog.
Whenever I'm this late writing you can bet that one of two things has happened: either my week has been crazy; or I'm struggling with the passages. This week it is both....and there may even be a connection.

The book of Numbers from which the story of the Bronze Serpent comes is thought to be the product of what is referred to as the "Priestly Source." This source is very concerned with rules, the power of the Priesthood, and punishment for those who cross either. The book offers a parallel account of the Exodus in its middle portion from which our passage comes.

Frankly, I have a problem with the leanings of the "Priestly Source." It consolidates power in a small group of folks (those of you who know me are well aware of my 'Authority Issues'); and the picture the book paints of a God who is so quick to take offense and strike back with serpents, leprosy, and death doesn't sit well with me. Maybe it doesn't need to. God doesn't need to run anything by me for my approval...but I am aware that this isn't the only view of the Isrealites life with God that the Books of Moses fact there are (at least) two others.

Well then, you might ask, why did you put these two scriptures together? The answer is, I didn't. In John 3:14-15 Jesus says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." John, writing some 60 or so years after the resurrection, looked back at the crucifixion and quotes Jesus as making a link between it and the story from Numbers.

So what do we make of this....what do we do?

I said the second reason I run late writing the blog is when my week has been crazy. This has been true as well this week. Maybe it's that Spring is here. Maybe there's a full moon. Maybe it's just the way it is this week. But all week long I have been dealing in particular, intense ways with people who have been "bitten" by the way they've been living their lives. The "stuff" as one might say, has been hitting the fan a lot this week for these folks. Calls made in panic and tearful pleas have hit record highs. Now mind you, in my work as a therapist I get a fair number of these anyway. But for some reason this week has been an all time high. Like the Isrealites writhing in burning pain from the bites of the serpents, these individuals have suffered from the results of their behaviors. Their agony and pain is no less real because they brought some of it on themselves, or because it's psychological.

And here's where I think the important difference in our two passages comes. Moses makes a serpent out of bronze and puts it on a pole. It is lifted up in the wilderness and those who gaze on it are healed of their venomous wounds. The message of the Bronze Serpent is "look what your behavior brought down on you." Often that's also the message of therapy: "look at your behavior...this is the you want to change?" And these are important insights and important questions.


The message of the John passage is radically, radically different.
Jesus said, "if I be lifted up, I will draw all humanity to myself." The message of the Bronze Serpent is "look at the result of your behavior." The message of the cross is "Look at the result of my Love." What wonderous Love is this? It is not a blood bribe. It is a Loving Gift. It is God's own Self experiences all that I might have experienced. Both those wounds that life has inflicted on me, and those that are self inflicted all come to the cross and are displayed on the body of Christ. Look what Love has done. Thanks be to God.


1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Striking difference that you outline, Stephen, and another example of Jesus meeting the people in their context and in their lives.

I do wonder, though, if it is sometimes more comforting - as in, more predictable, more familiar - to have our mistakes/sins pointed out to us. It's what most of us experience in our culture here in the US, and, honestly, what we inflict on others most of the time.