For this fourth Sunday of Lent, my Monday night lectionary discussion group explored this wonderful quirky story found in Numbers 21:4-9, and also one of the most famouse Gospel passsages of all time, John 3:14-21.

The group found the parallels between these two passages fascinating. I admitted to the group that although lots of people will state that John 3:16 is the verse that changed their lives, I find that John 3:16 doesn’t mean as much to me when it is seperated contextually from John 3:17. The two combined are the whole of the gospel in a nutshell for me!

We spent a lot of time discussing that serpent in Numbers. What was it about gazing at that thing that provided healing? Also, the group pointed out (with very little prompting from me) that although the Israelites could be healed from theri snake bites, there were still snakes in their lives; in other words, although Christ came to deliver us from sin adn eternal death, being a Christian does not mean that we will no longer have trials or tribulations. Salvation does not mean an easy life. The snakes are still out there.

What are you pondering this week as you preapre to preach (or not to preach)?

13 thoughts on “Tuesday Lectionary Leanings

  1. I’m pondering how we use the word “believe.” I don’t believe in space alien abductions (Sorry, Agent Mulder!). How many times do we hear that sort of negative belief applied to things of which people don’t *approve*? When I hear someone say “I don’t believe in” abortion, homosexuality, etc., I wonder what has happened to the word belief? Is it the opposite of a passionate disapproval? It must mean something more than that…


  2. Agreed, Songbird! When someone tells me they don’t believe in (say) abortion or capital punishment, I think, “you don’t believe that it exists? Cause, um, it does!”Cheesehead, I am blown away! I have never seen that reference before (in John 3:14 to the snake). WHAT! Did that just show up in Scripture? Um, I guess not. Gazing on the snake…think of all the references in hymns, etc. “Turn your Eyes Upon Jesus,” “Lift High the Cross.”Many things to think about. Thanks!


  3. Oh, Mary Beth, you bring back one of the bad memories of my first year in ministry. When these texts came up, I naturally picked “Lift High the Cross” as the processional hymn. Guess what? No one knew it. No. one. I don’t think we’ll try it this time. I’ll just have a little pseudo-Episcopal fantasy and sing it to myself.


  4. Interesting thing is taht I have always been uncomfortable with this text. It seems to suggest that the cross is some sort of magical talisman that will make you well…THe other thing I always note is that the famous verse from John (3:16) does not actually mention the cross. It doesn’t say that God sent jesus to die that we would have eternal life — just that “whosoever believeth in him…”. But if you asked many poeple I suspect that they would insist it is all about the cross. Maybe they remember that verse 15 points us directly that way.


  5. Another interesting point about this verse is that it doesn’t talk about the resurrection in relation to eternal life. God sent Jesus to die, no where in this text does it imply ‘and rise again’ that we may have eternal life.It’s about belief and faith and not works. mmmmJust pondering


  6. For the word “believe” — Marcus Borg has a great discussion in “The Heart of Christianity.”I preached this on Sunday (the horrible sermon) and then read it again today. But never met this fellow,_Attended or alone,_Without a tighter breathing,_And zero at the bone.Emily Dickenson wrote this poem and named it Snakes.Snakes have that response. Since the very beginning, we fear and loathe snakes.The people of Israel were grumbling – again. They had been in the wilderness for a long long time. They were tired of wandering around – and it seemed like aimless wandering around. They had to go around this mountain and that nation. They were tired of it. They started to grumble. (an from the book of Numbers)A strange story – one that is hard to get your head around. But this is the story that John is writing about. Moses put a snake – a bronze snake on a pole for the people to look at. The symbol is found in all sorts of places. It looks like a staff with a snake wrapped around it. Medical people call it the staff of Aesculapius. Pronunciation:. as-klee’-pee-uhsWe can’t be sure if this medical symbol was from the stories of Moses or Greek mythology, but it is definitely related to these stories. How did Moses cause the people to be healed? By making a symbol of their punishment for unfaithfulness and lifting it up on a rod. Grumbling led to discontent: discontent lead to disobedience: God sent fiery serpents to bit them and make them ill – even kill them.That doesn’t really make sense to us though, does it? It seems to direct – sin equals punishment: God sends snakes to bite.The snakes that injure and kill are interpreted as God’s punishment. The people repent for their lack of faith, ask Moses to intercede. Moses prays and the results in his divine instruction to make a bronze serpent which he set on a pole. All who are bitten will live if they look up to itWhy??Because this action will turn them back to God.God is the source of the healing.The bronze serpent is a symbol which becomes almost a sacrament in Isreal. Those who lift up their eyes up to it will see it as a the promise of God’s saving power. It is not intended as an image to be worshipped in itself. Later: King Hezekiah would destroy it because the people of Israel had begun worship it.From the very beginning,It was to be a symbol of God’s saving power.Since the very beginning, healing has been a central part of the life of Israel and the Church of Jesus Christ. The world was made good it says in the very first chapter of the first book of the Holy Scriptures, but alas – the wholeness of the world, its basici ntegrity, has been broken by sin.from the very beginning that not only is death introduced into the world because of sin, but even the snake that stop us from fully enjoying the riches of the world that God has made, are the result of our sin, the result of the brokenness of our world.I used the poem “Snakes” by Emily Dickenson and the story “The Holy Man and the Snake” to twist the story around.Sermon in a sentence: Take your sin, your suffering, your pain and offer it to Christ on the cross and he will bear it for you. Look at the cross and you will see what will heal you.Challenge/Action: bits of paper of what is biting you and making you ill — pinned onto the cross with thumbtacks.Function: Cause people to reflect on what in their life are their “snakes” that they need to put on the cross, and thus be healed.


  7. This Sunday I’m doing John 3:16 — the gospel in a nutshell.Story about a young girl in VBS who sawed open Walnuts, removed the nut, but John 3:16 in the walnut shell and then glued it back in class. As the glue dried she said “but teacher, there isn’t anything left good to eat in it!”We laugh: Nothing good to eat?Let’s look at the text:(expositionary stuff: no cross, what is believe?, what is perish?, you already HAVE eternal life (look at verb form in Greek))Nothing good to eat?Talk about how God’s word nourishes, how the Spirit sustains, how we are fed by one another in Christian community.Seque into communion and repeat the phrase “once upon a tree.”Anthem “Once upon a Tree so the story goes”Christ invites to his table all who love him and truly repent of their sin….


  8. Is there any kind of parallel between the snakes as a symbol of our brokenness and the death of Christ on the cross?In both cases, what at first symbolized how broken we are as humans, was ultimatly turned around to save us.In Numbers the snakes at first represented sin and then punishment. Once God intervened they became a symbol of healing and God’s love.In John, the death of JC represents the sin of the world and the ultimate in punishment. But God intervened through the resurrection and death became life, healing our sins and becoming the ultimate symbol of God’s love.Thoughts?


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