Summary: The cross is but a symbol of the death of Christ for our redemption. Let us not turn the cross into an idol.
4th Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, as we move through this season of Lent, and closer to our celebration of your Son’s passion, help us to gain a deeper appreciation of his sacrifice for our redemption. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts to your Word, that we might come to true repentance, and embrace with deepened faith the gift of life that you make available to us through the cross which Christ bore for us. This we ask in his holy name. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for the morning is the conclusion of a conversation Jesus had one night with a leader of the Jews named Nicodemus. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “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.” Clearly, this is a reference to the story recorded in our first lesson from the book of Numbers.
Thus, let us begin by exploring this strange story, to which Jesus refers. Here, we find the people whom God had delivered from bondage in Egypt, in the midst of their journey to the new home that God had promised to give them. But as happened several times along this arduous journey, the people become impatient with the hardships of their travels, and begin to grumble and complain to God and Moses about their situation.
In this case, the people are complaining about their daily diet of Manna. According to some of the commentaries that I read, Manna is produced when insects bore into a certain flowering lichen plant, or fungus, which then secretes this sweet substance that falls to the ground and then solidifies. When it is dry, the wind can pick it up and carry it from one area to another. This substance would then be mixed with meal to make sweet cakes, a practice still prevalent in areas of Egypt and Syria.
For some reason, the thought of eating the sap from fungus does not whet my appetite. Of course, those of you who know me, and my very broad diet, might understand why I wouldn’t find Manna to be something that I would enjoy. But even if I could bring myself to try it, and for some odd reason, even liked it, I doubt that I would want to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, day in and day out. Most of us, even if you have a limited diet like me, enjoy variety in our meals.
So the people complained to Moses and to God about that miserable food they had to eat to stay alive. And herein lies the first problem that I have with this strange story. God was not at all sympathetic to the people’s complaint. Instead, in what seems to be an overreaction to the situation, God sends poisonous snakes among the people, which bit them so that many of the people died.
Snakes! Now there is a creature that can totally unnerve some of the calmest people I know. Several years ago, three friends and I put a
couple of canoes in the Allegheny River at Franklin, to spend the day fishing, until we got to my friend Harry’s camp at Fisherman’s Cove. About noon, I suggested to Harry that we pull ashore at this rather level spot, and have a little lunch.
“Not here!”, Harry screamed at me, at the top of his lungs. I looked at him, as beads of sweat began to form on his brow. A little further down stream we pulled ashore, and Harry shared with us that he had pulled up at the place I wanted to stop, and when he went ashore, he found himself standing in the midst of more snakes than he had ever seen in his entire life. “I could have walked on water to get out of there,” he said, in a tone that led you to believe he could have done just that.
Well, the snakes certainly did the trick. According to the story, the people acknowledged their sins against God and Moses, repented, and asked Moses to pray to God, that he might take the snakes away from their midst. So Moses prayed for the people. But God didn’t take the snakes away! He didn’t remove the threat of death, which was the consequence of their sins.
Now we come to the most troubling aspect of this strange story for me. God instructed Moses to make a replica of the snake, and place it on a tall pole, which would be visible to the people. And whenever a person was bitten, they could look at that snake of bronze, and live.