*So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole. Whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. – Numbers 21*
*" 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*
There are at least some parts of the Bible that I really believe nobody should try to read alone.
Here’s the nut of the story from the Book of Numbers. The Israelites, having escaped from slavery in Egypt, are wandering in the desert, on their way to a distant Promised Land. Life is pretty sparse here, They begin to speak “against God and against Moses”, complaining that there is no food and water – and that “We detest this miserable food.” (Which is it, folks? No food, or just bad food?)
God, who has just liberated these same people, gets irritated by their ingratitude, and sends poisonous snakes among the people. Many of the people die. The people come to Moses and say, “Oops. We have sinned in our complaining. Do something about these snakes!” Moses prays for the people, and God replies, saying, "Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live."
This strategy – despite being apparently a violation, sanctioned by Godself, of the Commandment that the people of Israel are to make no graven images – works like a charm. In fact, it IS a charm. A strange and puzzling story indeed.
We live in a desperately fearful culture. Some of our fears seem reasonable - like snakes, maybe. Or graver fears - loss of loved ones; economic hardship and upheaval; that dark emptiness that sometimes overtakes us, as if coming from nowhere. Or maybe even the fear that a beloved church might simply vanish for inability to find a resonating voice in its community. Despite the old banners that, for a time, appeared on the rear windows of pick-up trucks, declaring “No fear!”, we live with more fears than we’d like to admit.
And there is no shortage of messages cast our way that seek to manipulate our fear; the latest enemy to confront; the “Other”; the country that wants a nuclear bomb – a lot like the ones of which we possess thousands; the supposedly threatening person approaching us on the street; the proverbial “undeserving poor”. We are carefully – and evilly – instructed to be afraid. Often, we oblige.
“Look right at your fear,” God seems to implore us. “I am not here to condemn you; I am here that the world might be saved,” as Jesus so sweetly says it. “But somehow, you have to get past your fears; you have to stare them down.”
We all have them. We may wear our fears on our sleeves, or we may have numbed ourselves from our fear. But that numbness is really our deepest, saddest, most hopeless expression of fear. That numbness, and the fear behind it, are what condemn us. God doesn’t do that; we do.
But the Promised Land awaits. Really; it does. Keep walking, and fear not. It’s awfully difficult to let go of our fears, but it’s worse – even impossible - to live a full, generous, hopeful life under their thrall.
Explore this wondrous, troubling story and mystery with us. We worship at 10 AM on Sundays.
Lenten Sabbath blessings-
PS By the way, if your e-mail includes the picture, the barred owl signifies nothing, other than a great chance for the photo this week.