“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up’ (John 3:14)
A recent radio program included an item about a woman who accidentally stabbed herself in the chest with a knitting needle. Her friends wanted to immediately pull it out and then drive her to the ER. Seems like a pretty good instinct, right? But she made a very counterintuitive decision: Leave the needle right where it is and wait for the ambulance to transport her to the hospital. The physicians who eventually treated her said that counterintuitive decision saved her life.
We read in Numbers of the wandering Israelites encountering an infestation of poisonous snakes. They were being decimated. The Lord instructs Moses to fashion the image of a snake and lift it up in the midst of the people. Anyone who was bitten could look up at Moses’ faux-snake and be delivered from the effects of the poison. It was a counterintuitive move all around. Why would they want to look at an image of the very thing that was killing them? But that snake statue turned out to be the means by which death was turned into life. The very sign of the affliction became the sign of its defeat.
In his nocturnal dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus connects himself to this desert drama when he says, As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” He is anticipating his own death on the cross, which is both the instrument and the sign of shameful death. It is a counterintuitive assertion, and must have confused Nicodemus terribly. Yet from our post-Resurrection vantage point, we can see the cross as both the sign and the means of life.
This is a template that seems to be “hard-wired” into the mystery of our faith: The experience of redemption is counterintuitive. How do we find victory? Through surrender. How do we receive the riches of God’s blessing? By pouring out our lives in service to others. In what alone may we boast? Our weakness. Where do we see wholeness most clearly? In the body of Christ, broken for us in the Eucharist.
Where is healing sure to be found? In the consecration of our sickness to God’s loving providence. Whose witness to the gospel do we celebrate with the greatest devotion? That of the martyrs. What is the path to eternal life? Death with and in Christ. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Look it Up
In John’s gospel, the narrative of Jesus’ passion and death has been referred to by scholars as “the Book of Glory.” This begins at Chapter 13, with the washing of the disciples’ feet, and continues until the end.
Think About It
The Friday collect for Morning Prayer (BCP, p. 56 or 99) mentions the cross being “none other than the way of life and peace.” What cross are you called to take up today?