There are those who hear this passage and wonder about a god who sends poisonous snakes to smite the whining and complaining people of the Exodus still wandering in the wilderness after almost forty years. And there are likely those who hear this passage and remember what God has to say about making and having graven images. And yet isn’t that what God asks Moses to make—a graven image of a serpent? God even asks Moses to hold that image up so folks could look at it and be healed. What gives?
Yet if we focus on those questions, we miss some important truths that this story points to:
The truth of the impact of long stretches of wilderness times on peoples’ lives:
*Don’t we in this room and in this segment of our community know the toll taken by long periods spent in the wilderness of camping out or living in shelters or shuffling from sofa to sofa?
*Don’t we in this room know the toll months and years of unemployment take on people’s souls?
*Haven’t we in this room witnessed the havoc time spent in the wilderness of addiction wreaks on people’s lives?
*And don’t we in this room know the deadly poison of the snakes in our midst?
*Snakes of indifference that allow folks to drive right by hunger, homelessness and deep, deep hurt without even seeing the suffering?
*Snakes of opportunism that lead to closed factories, lost jobs and squandered opportunities while all the while filling the pockets of the craftiest among us
*Snakes of corruption and malfeasance and violation of the public trust that allow public servants to fail to care for those in their trust.
*Snakes of privilege that allow some folks to close their eyes to the suffering in our city and to stop up their ears to block the sound of cries for justice
*Snakes of a bully culture that permeates our police department and our jail and that seeps into our streets
*Snakes of streaks of nastiness that prey upon the most vulnerable in our community—the elderly, the handicapped, gays, lesbians, and transgendered people
*And Snakes of weariness that sometimes dip their fangs into the gentlest of souls.
O we know snakes—that’s for sure. But so does God.
And God knows us too. God knows that to sap those snakes of their sting we have to look them in the eye. We have to see them for what they are—a threat to our very being and a threat to our very souls.
God says to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” God’s graciousness at work leading us to fullness of life by calling us to face down the snakes and serpents sinking their fangs into our lives.
Tomorrow the West Side Shelter closes for the season. Tomorrow yet another Tent City will be removed. Tomorrow we will mark the anniversary of the death of James Boyd. And tomorrow we will remember the callousness, the indifference, the meanness and the brutality that slither their way through our community.
But tomorrow we will look up and feel the sun warming our face. Tomorrow someone will offer us a cup of hot coffee. Tomorrow someone will acknowledge the injustice in our little corner of the world. Tomorrow someone will stand with us. Tomorrow we will see the face of God and live.