FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
Numbers 21: 4-9
When I was a hospital medic in World War II, I wore on my sleeve the medical symbol, a snake sort of corkscrewing around a pole representing the healing staff of Mercury, a symbol that brought together the two roots of Western culture, the Jews and the Greeks. Six hundred years after Moses at the Jerusalem Temple, there was a bronze snake on a pole, thought to be the very one fashioned by Moses. King Hezekiah, the great reformer, broke it into pieces because it was being worshipped (2 Kings 18:4). Since the use of magic appears here and there in the Old Testament, I would have said that the healing power of Moses’s bronze snake was magical; but I am given pause by the gospel of John, 3: 14-15, where Jesus is reported to say, “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.”
Ephesians 2: 1-10
A real scholar of the Bible might write a book on this passage, so loaded is it with concepts and images. Yet the main idea comes through. Before the appearance of Christ, humankind existed in a sinful state, following “the desires of the flesh,” obedient to Satan. Cut off from God humanity was in a state tantamount to death. Christ brought us out of this death into life with God. He did so because of our faith. Humans do not, cannot earn salvation by good works. They cannot influence God. Salvation is God’s gift, his grace, not a reward for doing good. To be sure, God wants our good works, and they will come, for good works are the result of salvation. They are never the cause of it. This is the idea that Calvin latched onto and took to extremes Paul never thought of.
© Arthur H. Cash