"The Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: Be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen." (BOS)
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” A very curious statement. Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, a leader among the Pharisees. They are having a discussion about who Jesus is, because Nicodemus knows that no one could do the things that Jesus is doing without being from God, but he cannot quite believe that Jesus is from God. Jesus is trying to help him understand and uses the scriptural story from Numbers to illustrate.
The way to make the parallel between the story from Numbers and Jesus’ own story goes like this: The people’s relationship with God was not quite right, they had forgotten God, so God tries to address the relationship by showing the people that he is faithful, that he loves them, that he cares for them and will heal them. In the Numbers passage, this happens through a serpent. The people were being bitten by poisonous snakes, so God tells Moses to bronze one of the snakes and lift it up in the air so that people could come see it. People who are willing are able to see it and be both physically and spiritually healed. They are made better and their relationship with God is restored through faith. I wonder how many people died after that bronze snake was created, how many people didn't trust God enough to look at a statue. I’m not much of a doctor, but it would take serious faith for me to believe that looking at a bronzed snake would make me well. And alternatively, I wonder how many people did trust what Moses said and were restored. Those that looked had faith in God's healing power. The Israelites that were healed were not only healed from their physical poisoning, they were healed in faith, they remembered what God could and would do for them.
The parallel that Jesus tries to show Nicodemus, is that the relationship with God in their time had also been not quite right and God sent Jesus into the world to show them that God is faithful, loves them and will heal them. Jesus will be lifted up on the cross so that anyone who might see and believe in him will be restored to relationship with God. They will have eternal life. The setup is the same, if we believe and look at the cross, we will be healed. However, it doesn't always seem to be that easy. We know God loves us, in our heads. We know that Jesus died on the cross for us, in our heads. But we don’t always feel wholly healed.
There is a scene in the movie Good Will Hunting where the main character, Will, who is shown throughout the movie to be absolutely brilliant at math, but because of his past has been in serious trouble and works odd jobs, is sitting in the office of his therapist talking about his past. Will doesn't trust anyone, including the therapist. However, the therapist, Sean, played by Robin Williams, is trying to get through to him anyway. In this scene Sean is trying to talk to him about the abuse he took from his foster father in the past. He holds up the thick file of stuff about Will that he has, court records, medical records, state department foster care records, and he drops it on the desk and looks at Will and says, “You see all this. It’s not your fault.” Will shrugs and says, “I know that.” Sean then proceeds to walk towards Will with open arms saying, “It’s not your fault,” seven times. “It’s not your fault.” “I know.” “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” “Don't mess with me.” “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” During this quiet, open armed, loving assault dismissing Will’s blame on himself, Will starts to break down. The scene ends with them both sobbing and hugging. I find it to be a very powerful and moving scene. Will knew that the abuse he experienced was not his fault in his brain, but in his heart he blamed himself for that abuse. In some corner, he could have done something better, something different. Something about him was not right and he deserved the abuse. The onslaught of being told, “It’s not his fault,” cracks through to his heart in a way never done before and starts the healing process.
I think this is what it would take to get through to us sometimes. We know in our minds that God loves us. We all memorized the words to Jesus loves me when we were small. Yet, they are just words. The Israelites needed the repetition of healing and deeds from God to remember that God was holding them. We need the same kind of repetition, we return to this church, weekly, monthly, yearly, for many reasons, not the least being that we need to be reminded of how much God loves us. Any relationship built on love repeats that expression over and over again. We don't tell people we love them once. Usually, we say it over and over again. We need that repetition, we crave it. We feel hurt when people we normally hear it from do not tell us that they love us. Marriages, significant others, parents, really good friends, we tell each other that we love each other often, because we want to share our appreciation and build our relationship. God tells us, through word and action, how much he loves us often.
Jesus tells Nicodemus in the gospel passage, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Jesus’ healing ministry is not about making people better. It is about making people whole. Being whole includes being in relationship with God. Through Jesus' teaching, healing, death, and resurrection, we are physically and spiritually healed. We remember the stories of Holy Week each year because they remind us to have faith in the healing power of God’s love.
God so loves us so much that he gave his only Son to heal and save us. God loves you. I can do nothing about it. We build up so much worry in our minds. We need to do this, we need to do that. We are not good enough. This is what Jesus throws out when he cleanses the temples of our bodies. All the things that keep us away from the love of God. God loves you. Right now. Has every moment in the past. Will every moment in the future.
Sometimes we have to hear something over and over again for it to sink in. Not just our minds. We grasp the language and the meaning in the first hearing, but the sense of it, the emotion of it, the reality of it. Being told we are loved is one of those things. Being told you are healed after a long illness or being told you are whole after a debilitating injury. It doesn't matter how much you understand the principle of it if your heart doesn't get it. We only fully know it when it seeps into our hearts.
God loves you.
Have faith in the healing power of God's love.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."