Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC
SUNDAY BIBLETALK
March 14th, 2021














Nicodemus

He came to Him
by night,
swaddled in darkness
like a child
who wraps himself
in a favored blanket
for security's sake.
Yet, from the shadows
he called Him
 "RABBI,"
obliged to secret prophecy
by signs of God's presence.

He got more
than he bargained for--
riddles of re-birth,
of flesh and spirit,
and of the Wind
that blows where it wills.
And along with this,
the Master's rebuke
and an injunction
to come out
into the Light.

Timidly,
with the burden
of the Word upon him,
he returned to his own kind,
there to find
pharisaical contempt,
to be called
rabble-sympathizer,
Galilean,
fool...

But
when the Son of Man
was lifted up
like some desert serpent,
he buried fear
to bury Him
and his deed,
plainly seen,
was done in God.

Frost and Fire, 1985


QUESTIONS
FOR REFLECTION

  • Jn 3:16 is the most quoted line in the Christian scriptures. Why do you think this is so?

  • In what ways does the Crucified Christ raise YOU up?

  • To what extent do you believe that Christ "raises up" all Creation?

  • Our second reading reminds us that we are "saved through faith, not works"; what does this mean to you?



Greetings, SBT Readers!

As the pandemic continues to rage, the availability of vaccines after months of waiting and hoping is surely a sign of better days to come. All over the world, vaccines are being administered through clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and mass-vaccination sites like Chicago's United Center. In most countries, health-care workers, front-line workers, and those in high-risk categories are first on the list, with other groups to follow.

As we roll up our sleeves and bare our arms, let us remember those populations that may not have access to the vaccines
-- very often the same populations that lack access to adequate health care, quality education, safe housing, and healthy food. In a world of "haves" and "have nots," being vaccinated is yet another badge of privilege and form of exclusion. This is true not only with minorities but also with Third World countries; there are even disparities at the continental level, with North America at the highest end of the spectrum and Africa and Oceana being at the bottom of the list. While there is little we can do as individuals to alter this inequity, those of us who are vaccinated need to continue practicing social distancing, not just for our own sake and the sake of our loved ones, but for our brothers and sisters who will continue to remain at risk. We are dealing with a global problem, and, therefore, our response needs to be global as well.

Lenten Blessings!
Elizabeth

SCRIPTURE REFLECTION

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, 
so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."
Jn 3: 14-20

Snakes and serpents have long held a negative place in the popular imagination, but this is not true for every culture nor has it always been the case. To this day, aboriginal peoples revere snakes as symbols of transformation (they shed their skins) and of eternity (they form a circle, having neither beginning nor ending). The Rainbow Serpent, for example, represents the Divine Spirit and the creative force present in nature. Millennia ago, snakes and serpents also represented the Divine Feminine and in goddess-worshipping cultures, they manifested as decorative spirals in tombs, temples, pottery, and statuary. Some scholars even believe that the Book of Genesis' depiction of Satan in serpent-form was the deliberate attempt of patriarchal culture to debase a powerful goddess symbol.

Given all the above, it is interesting that Jesus compares himself to the bronze serpent that Moses raised up in the desert (Num 21:4-9). The passage about the bronze serpent is brief but significant. In response to the Israelites' constant grumbling and rebellion, God sent a scourge of "fiery serpents" as a punishment. Surrounded by the dead and dying, the people repented and cried out for deliverance, begging Moses to pray for the departure of the serpents. God's response was to instruct Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole; anyone who gazed upon it would recover. Note that God did not destroy the venomous serpents but instead provided an antidote that was available to anyone who obeyed. What makes this even more interesting is that this serpent not only accompanied the Israelites during their desert wanderings but even crossed the River Jordan with them, entering the Promised Land. Given the name "Nehushtan," there it remained as an object of cultic devotion -- an idol-- until nearly 800 years later when King Hezekiah destroyed it, along with sacred poles and pillars dedicated to the goddess Asherah (2 Kgs 18:4).

In comparing himself to the bronze serpent, Jesus is claiming that he is the antidote to all that is venomous, all that is destructive, all that is evil. Even though we are surrounded by "fiery serpents" --toxic people and situations-- and though we ourselves are sinners, yet if we turn to him we will find God's mercy. Made by human hands, the bronze serpent healed the Israelites of their physical afflictions; however, it could not heal at a deeper level but merely satisfied the Israelites' desire for physical survival. Their motive for repenting was fear of dying; they did not undergo any kind of conversion because they were soon back to their idolatrous practices, worshipping the god Baal (Num 25:1-18). In contrast, through his Passion and Death, Jesus is Love Crucified, the One who takes upon himself the sins of the world so that we can recover our spiritual identity and become a new Creation. Through his wounds we are healed; through his blood, we are cleansed; and through his sacrifice, we, too, are raised up to be a source of light and life for others.
RESOURCES
Check out my Resiliency Assessment Tool on the home page of my new website: https://www.embracingpossibility.com

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Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart | www.elizabeth-annestewart.com | e.a.stewart@sbcglobal.net

C. All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, www.artfulphotographer.com