Moving Towards the Cross
In a recent gospel reading, we encountered the story of Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who recognized that there was something special about Jesus and desperately wanted to talk with him, but appears to be concerned with what others would think. The result is a secret meeting in the middle of the night. During this meeting Jesus seems to be frustrated that Nicodemus (an educated religious scholar and leader) did not understand what Jesus was teaching. One of the illustrations that Jesus uses to explain himself is a story from the time of Moses found in Numbers 21.
The story goes like this. The Israelites get into some trouble and make a vow to God, “If you but help us we will live exactly as you tell us (follow your commands).” God rescues them and soon afterwards when life gets difficult, they begin to complain to Moses “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” This is their typical complaint, often forgetting how bad life used to be as a slave and how much God had done to rescue them. So God sent a plague of poisonous snakes to bite them. God also provided a way for them to be healed/saved from the poisonous bites, simply take their eyes off the danger and look at Moses staff. This was much harder than you would first imagine. Our natural instinct is to retain control of a situation and obsess about all the dangers we are facing. Taking their eyes off the snakes all around them and looking to God for help was outside their way of coping and dealing with danger.
Jesus compares this story with himself. Noting that if Nicodemus (and us) wish to find the kingdom of God we need to look to the cross – where the son of man will hang – to find our salvation. Jesus is lifted up for our benefit, we just need to take our eyes off our present situation and look to Jesus, discovering help form God along the way. Just like with the Israelites, this is far harder to do in practice then it initially seems. It is far easier to focus on the danger/brokenness/corruption of our lives and try to “fix it” ourselves (via the latest self-help techniques) than to admit that we need God’s help and turn our eyes towards Jesus instead.
This is one reason why we have Lent. We need to develop the practice of not obsessing about ourselves (which often leads to a kind of blind or shallow self-awareness) and turn our minds and hearts towards what Jesus accomplished through the cross and his resurrection. The phrase “Trust Jesus for help” has unfortunately become a pithy Christian saying that has lost most of its meaning. Christians today simply do not know what it actually means to “Trust in Jesus”, or “Cast your cares on Him,” or “Let go and let God.” This is why we need Lent. So we can learn the rhythms and ways of living that actually incorporate the practices of giving our hearts and minds to God. These practices often begin with taking our focus (eyes) off our present messy situations and learning to see God, who is always present, patiently waiting right there next to us.
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