The Son of Man must be Lifted Up
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer. Psalm 19:14
So what do you think of snakes? Do you have any good snake stories?
Black water snakes, garter snakes, milk snakes, massasauga rattlesnake
Snake in the hen house, snakes warming themselves on the warm tar of the road at night
Snakes play a valuable role in the control of rodents, lizards and insects, but we seem to have an instinctive built in aversion to snakes. Look to the Bible, Genesis Chapter 3 has the talking snake who encourages Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Clearly our aversion to snakes goes away back. In today’s reading from Numbers the Israelites encounter poisonous serpents that bite many people and they die. The people assume this is God’s retaliation for all the complaining they are doing against Moses, Aaron and God. The Israelites beg Moses to talk to God and ask him to take away the serpents. God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a stake. Whenever anyone is bitten they should look upon the snake and they will live.
I am surprised that we are reading this story today. It sounds like magical thinking to me. And doesn’t God command that they not make graven images? This fear for idol worship is confirmed in 2 Kings when Hezekiah breaks the bronze serpent into many pieces since the people are worshipping it and burning incense to it. Do these fiery flying serpents even exist? One writer on Google thinks that the snake was probably an Israeli Saw-Scale Viper, an irritable, aggressive copper (brown, gray and orange) colored snake that is 1-3 feet in length and its scales produce a hissing sound to warn off predators. It is quick to strike and its bite is deadly and dangerous. It hides in the grass and springs up out of the grass to catch sparrows. Its bite causes a burning sensation at the site of the wound. It does not cause immediate death or paralysis but rather acts as a blood thinner that can result in bleeding to death. Where it is found it probably causes more deaths than all other snakes combined. This sounds like a horrible little snake!
So why is this story even in our lectionary! I would totally ignore it except that when we read today’s gospel the first line is a reference to this very story. Jesus said, “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. Really?!? Why didn’t the lectionary committee skip this reference to Moses and the bronze serpent and start the Gospel reading with the beloved passage John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave His Only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
The story of Moses and the bronze serpent is considered a “TYPE” foreshadowing Jesus on the Cross and Jesus in Heaven. The dictionary defines “type” as “a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something”. In the story from Numbers, if someone was bitten then if they looked up at the bronze snake they would live. In the Christian story if someone sick from sin looks up to Jesus then they will have not just life, but eternal life, life without end as found in God.
This story is a reminder that when you are sick or in distress that you should look up to God for relief and life, eternal life. So the next time you see a snake, perhaps an innocuous garter snake, let it serve as a reminder to look up to God for eternal life. Amen.
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Mother Darlene Kuhn
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