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Alone Together: Lent 4

Posted Fri, 03/12/2021 - 09:42 by Katharine

In the fourth blog of the series for Lent 4 SCM student Molly Boot reflects on Numbers 21:4-9 and God's restoration.

In this week’s Lectionary reading from the Hebrew Bible, we find the people of Israel in the wilderness after a time of desolation, death, and the dawning realisation that they’d got things wrong. When they were freed from Egypt, they hadn’t signed up to drift for so long without a place to call home.

In their hopeless wandering, forgetfulness overtook the stories of God’s deliverance, provision and healing that bound them together in the first place. It is all too easy to forget our identity, those things which bind us together, when we are miserable, and the world around us seems hostile and unfamiliar. They reject God and Moses, and the life they’ve been given — and the consequence is death. God sends poisonous snakes among them, and many are killed.

At a time when we are all too acquainted with death, I recoil at this story. How could God deliberately put God’s people in harm’s way? I certainly don’t have an answer, and I think it’s probably better to sit with the reality that our scriptures contain stories that offend us.

Nonetheless, the poisonous snakes are not the point of this story, either in the Torah, or where it’s referenced in the Gospel of John: 'Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up' (John 3:14). The point is that a scattered and hopeless people realise that they’ve forgotten themselves and their God, and are gathered and reconciled around God’s offer of healing. God doesn’t remove the source of trouble – the people of Israel still have to face the painful consequences of their forgetfulness – but through a bronze serpent lifted up for them to look upon, God restores the community to health; in their individual bodies, and as a collective body called to bear witness to the presence of God in their midst. Later, Hezekiah would destroy the snake, as the people make it a god, forgetting again the One who is truly the source of healing, and their identity as a community gathered around that God.

At the moment, when physically gathering in the presence of God with those who remind us of Divine Love is difficult or impossible, it is easy to forget the stories of healing and chosen-ness that define us. This week, pay attention: what is God lifting up before your eyes as a source of healing and strength? How might you draw life from the things that are presented to you, and look beyond them to the God who desires your wholeness, even in this time of wandering and waiting?