In the Lectionary

March 11, Lent 4B (Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21)

Don't forget to read John 3:17.

Inspired by the play-based curriculum of their nursery school, I used to turn my kitchen over to my children. This was when they were barely toddling around, when they were just gurgling a few words at a time. I would get out all the pots and pans, every possible cooking utensil and other paraphernalia, and large bowls of whatever ingredients: rice, flour, baking soda, various shapes of dried noodles, water, vinegar, food coloring. We would go at it, straining and combining, kneading and splashing.

If there was ever an image for the strange mixing of metaphors that sometimes happens in these Gospel texts, this would be it.

As we continue with Lent, Jesus continues his conversation with Nicodemus. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” Jesus says, in the very beginning of this week’s assigned text. I always do a bit of a double take when I read this. I try to wrap my mind around the comparison of Jesus to the snakes sent to bite the Israelites in Numbers after they complain to God about the lack of food and water on their seemingly endless journey through the land of Canaan. The image of the serpent always triggers images of other serpents throughout the Bible—the Eden account, Moses’ shepherd’s crook, and Jesus’ advice to his disciples to be as “wise as serpents,” to name a few examples. All these representations of serpents swirl around in my mind as I read the rest of John’s familiar words about God’s love for the world, as words like belief, eternal life, light, and judgment seem to sizzle on the surface.