Once again, I find myself apologising for a long gap in posts here. We have moved house – again, and I hope for the last time – and the usual flood of practicalities, some tedious, some delightful, has kept me away from the keyboard. Things are settling down, though, and I have been thinking about faith and simplicity, and how complicated we humans make things around religion, with our criteria, our creeds and our shibboleths.
Kayla McClurg writes:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness…,” today’s passage [John 3:14-21] says, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” This is one of those small bites of scripture we are apt to glide right past in our hurry to get to the meat of the message. How odd to find in John’s gospel this reference to a peculiar story in the book of Numbers in which God punishes the people with an onslaught of poisonous snakes. The remedy God gives Moses is rather odd, too. He is told to make a bronze replica of a serpent and put it on a pole. When it is lifted up, anyone who has been bitten by a poisonous snake simply looks at the replica to be saved.
The people do not have to figure out how it works. They do not need to come to consensus about its meaning, or strive to love it with their whole hearts. They simply look at it if they want to be healed. This, John says, is how it is with Jesus.
We tend to make Jesus quite a bit more complicated. Is it possible that faith might be as childlike and simple as just looking at Jesus? Not arguing over who he was and is, what one should believe about him, how to express that belief, who is right and who is wrong. “For God so loved the world…”—we barely get this far in one of the best known and most hopeful verses in scripture before we leap out into the perils and pitfalls of varying belief systems, who is in and who is out and who gets to decide. We stand condemned, or ready to condemn, despite the very next words: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world….”
Moses lifted up the serpent, not to condemn, but to heal. And the people only needed to take a new look at its healing potential. That’s all. Maybe taking another look at Jesus will bring us more gifts than we know. If we start to see him in a new light, without knowing for sure what is right or wrong and who is on his team, we might be surprised by what we end up believing, what old wounds get healed.
(With thanks to Inward/Outward)
The Franciscan scholar Richard Rohr remarks,
It is theologically and formally incorrect to simply say, as most Christians do, “Jesus is God.” The Trinity is God, and the Eternal Christ is God. But Jesus is a third something—a god-man—which offers humanity an utterly new possibility and dignity from God’s side. If you can’t imagine it in Jesus, it is very unlikely you will be able to imagine it within yourself. That is why I personally need to believe in Jesus’ divinity. This does not to make Christianity the “only true religion,” but it does make Christianity, in its mature forms, into a code-breaker, a short cut, a simplification about what is happening within reality. Without Jesus putting it together for us, I doubt if we could even imagine that divine and human could be united into one person…
I do believe that the Jesus mystery holds, manifests, affirms, and enjoys the entire pattern, process, and privilege of what it means to be a human person. Believe it first in him, and then you can perhaps dare to believe it in yourself.
Rohr, again, is speaking of looking at Jesus as the way of healing, of change, of homecoming. He is, of course, not the only way – but certainly for those of us whose cultural, even linguistic, heritage is bound up in the Christian story, he is a, possibly the, most direct and powerful way to integration, at least if we can get over the preconceptions too many of us inhaled with the dusty air of the schoolroom and the church Bible study.
It isn’t complicated. All we need is to contemplate – literally, spend time with – Christ; to really look at him. We don’t need to have the right, or any, answers. We don’t need creedal formulations. To sit quietly is enough, and to realise the Presence that is always with us. And then, as Thomas Kelly wrote,
An inner, secret turning to God can be made fairly steady, after weeks and months and years of practice and lapses and failures and returns. It is as simple an art as Brother Lawrence found it, but it may be long before we achieve any steadiness in the process. Begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet, glad surrender to Him who is within. In secret ejaculations of praise, turn in humble wonder to the Light, faint though it may be. Keep contact with the outer world of sense and meanings. Here is no discipline in absent-mindedness. Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship. Keep it up throughout the day. Let inward prayer be your last act before you fall asleep and the first act when you awake. And in time you will find, as did Brother Lawrence, that ‘those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep’.