March 15, 2015 (Year B Lent 4) Celtic Meditation

John 3:14-21[1]

After Moses led the people out of Egypt, the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. God had promised to bring them into the promised land but when this didn’t happen as quickly as they wanted, they became impatient and complained about God’s provisions for their daily needs.[2] As punishment, God sent fiery serpents among them. These fiery serpents bit the people. Some of them died. The people recognized their complaining as lack of trust and repented. They pleaded with Moses to ask God to take away the snakes. God instructed Moses to make a representation of the serpent and attach it to a pole so that whenever someone was bit, the dying person could look upon the image on the pole and live.[3] God provided a cure for the consequence of this particular punishment for sin and those who knew they were snake-bit, trusted God, and accepted God’s instrument for saving them from the poisonous snake-bite were saved. John saw this event in the desert as a foreshadow of the crucifixion. The cross represents our sin, those who recognize that they are sin-bit and trustingly look to Jesus on the cross as the cure for the fatal illness resulting from sin-bite will be saved.[4] What does it look like for us, as church, to fully acknowledge that we are each being saved from the deadly poison of sin?

Those who trust in Jesus will not perish because they already have received the cure for the poisonous sin-bite, which is experienced as eternal life. Towards the end of this gospel, John defines what he means by “eternal life.” “Eternal life” is knowing the One true God and Jesus Christ as the One sent by God[5] which leads to a new way of being in the world. How can we, as church, live more fully into the eternal life that we are already experiencing so that we can better demonstrate the trustworthiness of God’s cure for sin through Jesus?

Judgment, according to John, is something that is already happening. How we respond to Jesus reveals our relationship with God and this relationship with God is what determines our judgment. Those who are sin-bit and do not look to God’s cure for sin participate in deeds that they do not want exposed in the light of day or in the light of Christ. These activities of those who are dying from the poison of the sin-bite are called “evil.” But those who are attracted to Jesus are not ashamed of their deeds because God is the source and motivation for these deeds. Having Jesus, the Light of the World, expose these deeds brings glory to God. As those who are coming to the Light, what does it look like for us to transparently examine the motivation and strength for the activities which define of our common life as church?

© 2015 Donna R. Hawk-Reinhard, All Rights Reserved

——————————-

[1] In this short reading, we have the heart of the gospel in a nutshell. We have Jesus’ identity (God’s unique Son who is also the Son of Man; the One who is fully divine and fully human), his mission (sent by the Father to save those who believe in Him), the purpose of his mission (because God so loved the world), and the result of this mission (those who believe in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life which includes doing good deeds which bring glory to God).

[2] For a recounting of this part of the story, see Numbers 21:1-9.

[3] The word translated as “fiery” can also be translated as seraph. Peter J. Leithart rightly notes that the command in the Hebrew text is to make a representation of the “fiery being” while the Septuagint understands this being as a snake. In the Numbers account, “fiery one” may be a nominative focusing on the effect of the bite rather than the type of creature. The question that arises from this first use of the Hebrew term in the Old Testament canon seems to be whether the seraph in Isaiah is a winged serpent or whether the Isaiah passage is an allusion to Numbers 21 and the similar attitude of the people (unclean lips). See Leithart’s essay “What are Seraphim,” First Things, December 15, 2010 (accessed 3/14/2015) for more information. For a post about how these two readings could work together, see Dan Handschy’s 15 March 2015 post “Snake Bit” on his blog, Rector’s Reflections.

[4] Peter L. van Dyken. “As Moses Lifted Up the Serpent in the Wilderness.” Reformed Journal 9 no. 10 (1959): 20-22.

[5] John 17:3

Leave a Reply