“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” Jesus says in John 12:32.
The Greek word for “draw” used above is helko. It is not a nice, sweet way of drawing people. Nope, not like a gentle arm on the wandering shoulder at the nursing home. Nope, not like picking up a baby chick. This word is a little more… vigorous. Think plastic straw. A vacuum cleaner. Your dog on a leash, going after the neighbor’s cat. There is a bit of yanking and pulling with a word like helko.
We are getting to the point in the Lenten season where all of the rhetoric is getting more vigorous. Images this Sunday speak of foreboding and betrayal, suffering and death. And in the midst of that, the promise embedded in John 12:32 is all the more vigorous as well. I don’t know about you, but to me…some good, old-fashioned, helko-type of yanking is still a word of grace.
Lord, draw us near to you this day. Amen.
This coming Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. All along, we have been reading these great stories of Covenant for our First (Old Testament) Lessons. We’ve had the giving of the 10 commandments, Abraham and Sarah, and Noah. Now, this Sunday, March 22, 2009, we will deal with this odd little part of the Book of Numbers, Chapter 21:4-9. As the people grumble in their wilderness wandering, snakes appear (the Hebrew word there does not mean poisonous so much as “fiery”). Then a bronze serpent is crafted; and all who look upon this snake shall live. (Popular at this time was the understanding of sympathetic magic: cure for an ailment was often tied to looking upon the thing or the substance that was harming you.) But the story also ties in with our Gospel reading, as Jesus makes reference to this bronze serpent in John 3:14-21.
Regardless of the exact meaning of the bronze serpent, Jesus connects a story of the Israelites and God, and likens it to himself and God. We see in John’s Gospel that Jesus is making huge claims for his own life, its meaning, and the implications of his life on others. And that is definitely some ssssserious sssstuff.
God of mercy, bring us into the truth of your light (John 3:21). Amen.
At the age of 23, I had to make a decision to leave a church community that was doing something I felt was objectionable. Though I hardly crafted a whip and made a scene in the narthex, I did refuse to be complicit in some very real, very destructive, patterns in the congregation. It was hard to do; and to this day, some friendships are strained. Others have been lost entirely.
As I look back in the decade since that time, there were things I could have done differently. I could have been less strident; though I do not imagine a scenario where I would have stayed in this congregation. Is this congregation still doing Jesus’ work? In many ways, yes, of course. And so am I. But I must admit that at the time, and still today, I long for more than a truce. I long for a transformation.
Perhaps the zeal that Jesus speaks of in this coming Sunday’s lesson (John 2:13-22) will consume all of us at one time or another. Yet I pray that zeal might be productive and not destructive, refining and purifying our desires, so that the truth of the Gospel shines more brightly.
God of all communities of faith: stand in our Temples. Take inventory of our practices. Then show us how zeal and love are related. Amen.