Numbers 21: 4-9            Today's reading from torah is a very peculiar story from the book of Numbers.  The people of Israel have been in the wilderness for a long time, complaining all the while and wanting to go back to Egypt.  At this point, their journey is made even longer, because the king of Edom won't give permission for them to pass through his territory on the way to the land they've been promised.  This leads to more complaining, and a rather surprising response from God.  The strange event described in the text is mentioned several times in the Bible:  in II Kings, in the apocryphal book of Wisdom, and in today's reading from the gospel of John.  How does God speak to us through this strange and disturbing story?

 

Reading from Numbers 21:4-9

From 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. The 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.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The 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. And 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.” So 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.

John 3: 14-21         Today's reading from John's gospel compares the crucifixion of the Human One to Moseslifting up of the serpent in the wilderness.  The text continues with one of the best known verses in the Bible, John 3: 16but the concluding verses of the text seem to contradict this radical expression of divine love for the cosmos.  Let us attend to this reading, that we may hear within and beyond its words a word for us and for our world.

 

Reading from John 3: 14-21

And 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. “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. “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. Those 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. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”