Lent 4 - Year B
Again an issue of what can be trusted raises its fanged head. When the danger seems great enough, that deemed evil or death is nipping at our heels, we are liable to pursue the improbable, if not impossible. How might gazing upon a bronze snake care for the poison a live snake has injected?
This then is the context of famous John 3:16 line about believing to receive a conditioned gift of a positive eternity - something not intrinsic to persons, but given to or withheld from them.
If your greatest fear is a wrath to come, then what became substitutionary atonement theology is the only way to go. Faith becomes a zero-sum game that needs dividing line between up and down.
If we focus more on a scene with Nicodemus and the allusions there, we might hear this retrojected into the conversation. As is as though the whole business of being lifted fills two functions. First, it builds on an assertion that Nicodemus did not understand his own tradition about where belief can come from - fear - and how it needs to be understood as sign and mystery rather than doctrine based on one experience [go get intentionally snake-bit so you can look on a bronze snake and prove G*D]. Second, since you are not ready to receive my experience, I can make the most outrageous claim and it will not add or detract a whit to your willingness to see things differently.
Rather than get caught with the problems of a conditionally loving G*D, it may be more helpful to look at verses 20-21 and the potential of using embarrassment of having one’s hypocrisy (often a great evil in the Christian Scriptures) revealed to others. Here is the antidote to secrets and night-meetings - by your deeds will you be measured, not by what you say and then don’t do. Religious leaders still need to learn this every generation. In our day this shows up around GLBT, immigration, and economic issues. In each case there are scapegoats expelled instead of community broadened and deepened. Some churches have done well to know it isn’t just a matter of looking to a past sign, but paying attention to a present choice to both proclaim love and express it in deed. This is light that illumines all the other born again and bloody atonement excuses to avoid deeds done in G*D’s freedom.
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Fun equivalency: Pinocchio = animated puppet and Jesus = begotten bronze snake.