This week we read about the Israelites in trouble. Venomous snakes are biting God's people, and as they plead for their lives they seek the council of Moses, their trusted leader. God's plan for healing and giving new life to the people was fairly unconventional and (dare I say it) idolatrous. Moses built a giant bronze serpent, wrapped it around a pole and elevated it so that when the people gazed upon it, they were healed and lived. Ummm...yeah. I realize I may be a bit naive in this, but would it not have been easier for God to simply eradicate the snakes from the desert, rather than allowing the people to continually be subject to the poison and also to their own fear?
Then, we read about the amazing Nicodemus, worried and confused about this Messianic figure, Jesus, who is busy shaking things up in the temple. So, fearing for his own safety (I bet it might have felt like a rotten snake bite), Nicodemus approaches Jesus in the middle of the night searching for some council. (Not unlike the Israelites running to Moses with regret.) What does Jesus say? "And just 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."
The past few days in Darfur, Africa have not been going well, to say the least, since President Beshir has mandated the evacuation of most international aid groups. More war refugees are flocking to the camps only to face ongoing life-and-death issues, like a lack of water and dramatically overcrowded shelters. This is a fairly macro problem in the world that God needs to heal. And so perhaps it's a bit unfair of me to even mention it; but still, it is a giant snake bite that ought to cause all of us pain. On a more personal level, each of us may be challenged to keep trusting in God this week of Lent because we have our own snake bites that either aren't healing or may even be sucking the very life out of us--the wound is just too deep and too painful, and we're tired of looking up at the bronze image (i.e. Jesus) hoping for the restoration we so badly desire, only to see fifty more snakes when we return to work the next day.
God, can't you just get rid of the snakes?
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:17
Again, what an unconventional way for God to stop the pain and restore us to new life. Evil is not eradicated (not yet anyway), our hurts are still real, the snakes still slither about--but so, too, our hope may shine forth. The incarnation is not about judgment or a cessation of immediate trauma (although perhaps it can be). Jesus coming to earth is about new life. Jesus teaches us a new way of living. Jesus grants us permission to hope for a new reality, and Jesus modeled that reality for us. The bronze serpent will be raised up on a cross in just a few weeks so that we might be restored to life in the kingdom of God.
Questions for Reflection:
What snake bites our festering in our lives?
Do we trust God with our pain?
Do we believe that God can transform our pain, no matter how unconventional the method may be?
We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:
the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives.
Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
Our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more furtunate than ourselves,
Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
Our negligence in prayer and worship and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
For all false judgments,
For uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors and
For our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ.
For our waste and pollution of your creation and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Restore us, and let your anger depart from us.
Accomplish in us the work of your redemption.
By raising high your bronze serpent, Christ on the cross, encourage us to gaze upon him and taste and see and touch and know and experience healing--life anew, in the kingdom of God. May be we feel the rub of your healing salve on our tender bites. We confess all of this, expecting your mercy to soothe the sore spots.
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.
May you sense God in new ways this week,
~Part of the prayer is from Rob Bell.