Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, March 10, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 4

Lent 4, 2024
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, how about that story we heard from Numbers today?  You know, with the snakes and the pole and everything?  You gotta admit: it’s a little bizarre.  The people have been freed from slavery in Egypt, and they’re out wandering in the desert, and they start whining again to Moses about not having food or a decent place to sleep.  I mean, I get it.  But they’re not remembering what they’ve been freed from.  They were slaves under the Egyptians, and now they’re free.  But they are grumbling.

And so, God seems to say, “You want something to grumble about?  Well here are some snakes to bite you.  Try those on for size!”  And the snakes come and bite the people, and they cry out for mercy, and God tells Moses to make a snake out of metal and put it on a pole, and everyone who looks at the snake is healed. 

Okay, now I have to tip my hand about the snake story.  This is one of those times where we can’t let the facts of the story get in the way of the truth of the story.  I mean, I’m as willing as anyone to say that this story might have happened exactly as we heard it today . . . I mean, God can do anything, right?  But it is definitely one of those times where if we look too closely at the details, we’re going to get a seriously messed up image of God.  Because we’re tempted to come away thinking that, if we complain to God, a lot of us are going to have snakes in our cars tomorrow morning.  And if God sent fiery serpents every time I complained, well, I’d be covered head to toe in snake bites by now.

So, my point is, we can’t get bogged down in how the snakes got there.  Sometimes, in order to make a point, you’ve got to add some details to the story.  You can’t just start off with, “One time, there were these snakes.”   Otherwise, everybody’s first question would be, “Wait, where’d the snakes come from?”  And then you’d have to say, “The snakes are not the point.”  And then people would say, “But snakes don’t just appear all of the sudden like that.”  And then you have to say, “Okay, fine!  GOD sent the snakes.  You happy now?  Can I get back to the point of the story I’m trying to tell you?”

And I know that some people will definitely want to argue about the snakes.  Some people will say that if you don’t believe that God literally sent those snakes, then it’s just a slippery slope till you’re saying Jesus didn’t rise from the grave.  There is no good response to that kind of argument, because . . . it isn’t an argument . . . It’s a lack of faith.  But that’s a story for another time. 

And that’s why we’re now going to leave this story about the snakes and go to today’s Gospel reading . . . Where Jesus also talks about snakes!   You can’t get away from these things, I tell you!

Today’s Gospel starts right out with Jesus recounting the story we were just talking about, saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” so it was necessary for the son of man to be lifted up.  Why did Moses lift up the pole with the serpent attached?  For the healing of the people, right?  That their suffering might be ended.  So that those who stop dwelling on the snakes at their feet—who look to the one lifted up—would be saved.  The point is to look at the one who has been lifted up, not the snakes at their feet.

But, we also want to ask, “Where did the snakes around my feet come from?”  Or, what we really ask is, “Why me, God?  Why am I suffering?”  And here is where I want to say, WHY you are suffering is not the point.  The point is to look at the one who is lifted up, the one who can heal you, the one who brings life and forgiveness and salvation.

But I also know that someone will come along and tell you that you are suffering because God is punishing you.  People will tell you that the reason you are suffering, or are in pain, or are losing a loved one is because God is tired of hearing you whine.  And I will tell you, plain and simple: THAT, my friends, is. a. lie.

How do I know?  Because as we just heard in John 3:17, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  God does not send snakes to torment us.  God sends us salvation through the cross, through the one who is lifted up.  Jesus said:  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it was necessary for the son of man to be lifted up, in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s John 3:17.  John 3:16 has been called “the gospel in a nutshell.”  You’ve seen it at sporting events; you’ve seen it on signs from street preachers.  John 3:16 has a life of its own, because it seems to sum up the Christianity.  Most of us know it by heart, or at least some pieces of it.  How does God love the world?  In this way . . . so that people may not perish but may have eternal life

But . . . we still want an explanation for those snakes around our feet, don’t we?  We want an explanation for why we suffer, and why we have to watch those we love suffer.  And it’s easy to pin it on God, because we expect to be punished, for one reason or another.  In the back of our minds, we think it makes sense to say, “These snakes are biting me because I complained about leaving Egypt.”  We just update it to our present lives, of course.  “I failed that test because I haven’t prayed lately.”  Or, “My kid got sick because I skipped church last week.”  For some reason—and I don’t know why—it helps us make sense of the world when we pin our tragedies on God.  For some reason, we take comfort in thinking that our suffering is from the hand of God.  That God shows love by making our lives miserable.  I hope you can see how ridiculous and terribly sad that is.

John 3:16:  For God so loved the world that . . . God sent snakes to bite people who misbehave?  Nope.  For God so loved the world that God sends tornadoes and cancer to people who forget to pray?  Nope.  God sends mass shooters to punish countries that somehow “take prayer out of the schools?”  Nope again.  For in this way God loved the world:  that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.  God sends the savior, not the snakes.

And then Jesus says, God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not judged; but those who do not believe are judged already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And you know what I think that last part means?  This idea of being judged already?  I think it means that spending our time looking at the snakes, fearing the serpents, rather than looking to the one who saves us from them.  Those who believe in him are not judged.  But those who do not believe are judged already.  Jesus did not come into the world to judge us.  He is not the snake who bites our feet and causes the sufferings of this life.  He is the one who is lifted up—like the serpent on the pole—to bring healing to the world . . . To all people, in every time and every place.  God sends the savior, not the snakes.

And this same one who is lifted up for our healing is also the one who is lifted up at every Altar where the sacrament is being celebrated.  As the bread of heaven, Jesus comes to heal us.  And, maybe for a few moments, in this time outside of time, God grants us the grace to stop looking at our own suffering and to see the gift of healing that comes through the power of the cross.  For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge the world, but in order that it might be rescued through him.  God does not send the snakes around our feet.  God sends the one who is lifted up for our healing from those snakes around our feet.  May God give us the strength to believe, and to keep our eyes on Jesus, the one who is lifted up, the one who heals us.


No comments:

Post a Comment