John 3: 14 – 18
Jesus said to Nicodemus: 14‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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. 17‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
We live in a culture that loves to blame people. In a car crash it vitaly important to establish blame if you want the right insurance company to pay out. If there is a mistake in a hospital , often we want to find out who was responsible so lessons can be learned to stop the same thing happening again. If a politician makes a foolish comment on Twitter, they are likely to be hounded until they resign. It feels good to be able to blame someone else because it means it’s not our fault. “The bloke was all over the road, Officer, I had to swerve several times before I hit him.”
The problem with the present pandemic is that it’s difficult to find anyone to blame. There are various conspiracy theories floating about but they are at best just theories and at worst, rather farfetched. We search for someone to blame but in vain. This leaves us feeling uncomfortable? Is it our fault? If you’ve read more than one or two of my emails, you’ll appreciate that I believe that whilst the global pandemic is not my fault personally, it is humanity’s fault generally and a natural consequence of the way in which we treat the fragile God given resources of the world we live in. However whether you think this is likely or not, what follows is still valid.
When the Jews were travelling through the wilderness heading for the Promised Land for 40 years after excaping from slavery in Egypt, God looked after them. Their shoes did not wear out and he provided them with manna and quails and water to drink. However after a while even the most delicately roasted quail lightly seasoned with herbs and served with fresh new potatoes becomes a little tedious if you have to eat it every day, and the Jews didn’t even have potatoes. They got bored with it and started complaining. Shortly after this there was a plague. A plague of serpents and many Isrealites died. From the perspective of the bible it was God who sent the serpents because of the ungrateful Israelites.
You could read this as a cautionary tale. The sort of thing that Victorian parents might tell children as a good reason to be grateful for what they’ve got. I’m not sure I find that very helpful, or that it gives a very good insight into the God of love we were talking about yesterday. I find it more helpful to think that the Israelites were looking for someone to blame for the serpents, but found no one. They wanted to blame God, but this really meant they had to blame themselves because God was angry (so they reasoned). Blame and guilt are destructive,they eat away at you and your self-esteem plummets until you die inside. Was this the situation for the Israelites? In any event, once again God saved them, as Moses raised a bronze serpent on a pole and the people moved away from the plague spot. Perhaps the bronze serpent on the pole saved the people by drawing the sting of death away from the bitten Jew. God did care, and their broken self-esteem began to rise again. God took away the blame with the bronze serpent
Here the original passage from Numbers 21: 4 – 9
4From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
We’ve got a plague and no one to blame at the moment. Can you see the connection with the John 3 passage we’ve been looking at? Can you see the connection with Jesus? When you are tempted to blame God for the unfairness in your life, does that really mean you are blaming yourself? We’ll draw all the loose threads together tomorrow.
May the love of Christ grant me a quiet mind.
May the Spirit strengthen me in all goodness.
And may I live in the blessing of god’s pardon and peace,
from this day forward and for evermore. Amen.
The picture below is by F. N. Souza and hangs in the Tate Gallery. It says something to me about the barbarism of the crucifixion with thorns and teeth in extraordinary poses. It is entitled, simply ‘Crucifixion’.
If you would like to join us for Evening Prayer tomorrow (Tuesday) it is at 4.30pm
The link is:
Topic: Zoom Evening Prayer on Tuesday
Time: Jul 7, 2020 04:30 PM London
Time: Jul 7, 2020 04:30 PM London
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 884 8779 8753
The times for Evening Prayer for the rest of the week are as follows:
Sunday worship to be confirmed later in the week but Evening Prayer will be at 6pm on Zoom.