I want to start by saying, I didn’t choose the reading for today! But we follow the lectionary. This is the reading is has thrown up for today. So I read it, and reflected on it, and considered what is might have to say to us. So what could it be saying to us, this strange stuff about a snake on a pole … and talk about eternal life and judgement?
So I read through the Gospel of John, and as I did so I realised how often it speaks about judgement. Judging … and judgement. Jesus just keeps bringing it up, again and again. And again and again he speaks about it to say that it’s not what he came to do.
He did not come to condemn. He came to invite all people into life overflowing.
But, but, but.
That’s what we say, isn’t it? No judgement? Really?
Let me tell you another story. This is one that I read when I was child. I haven’t read it since, but it has stuck with me. There is a young boy living in poverty. He is constantly hungry from lack of food. But a kind woman invites him into her house for a time. They talk for a while, and she offers him an egg. An egg. The boy takes it with great enthusiasm and immediately sucks out the raw yolk.
OK, so I found that part a bit yuck. I guess that’s party why this story stuck in my head. But the story was set in another time and place where apparently that was a fairly normal thing to do.
So anyway, he sucks down this egg, but he wants another, so when she’s not looking he quickly grabs one. But he doesn’t want her to see him eating it, so he keeps it in his hand and puts his hand behind his back. Now it’s getting dark, so she walks him home. She carries a lamp so they can see, but he doesn’t want to walk in the light in case she sees the egg in his hand. So he walks over on the side of the road in the dark. She keeps encouraging him to walk with her in the middle of the road and share the light, and she can’t understand why he keeps refusing. Eventually the boy trips in the dark, grazes his knee, and smashes the egg.
So … I want to ask the question: what happens if we refuse to come into the light? Jesus did not come to condemn, but to invite people into infinite life. But what if we refuse the invitation?
Here is what Jesus says: “Even if you refuse my invitation, even if you refuse to come into the light and insist on walking in darkness, I still don’t judge you. The only judgement against you is what you choose for yourself. If you refuse to come into the light then you have already condemned yourself to walk in the dark.”
I was really struck by a verse that occurs a little later the Gospel, where Jesus makes this really explicit. He says, “Even if you hear my words and reject them, even then, I do not judge. I did not come to judge. I came to offer salvation.”
So we might judge ourselves, but Christ does not judge us.
We might judge others, but Christ does not judge them.
The only thing Christ judges is judgement itself. The only thing he condemns is condemnation.
And perhaps, at times, the only thing that holds us back from accepting Christ’s invitation into infinite life, is our insistence on holding onto judgement. We stumble along in the dark, angry and resentful and lonely, clutching our little eggs of judgement. Judging ourselves or judging others.
Letting go can be hard.
From time to time I help someone move house, and have to carry something really big and heavy. I manage to get my fingers under it then struggle along as my fingers start to ache. And by the time I’m allowed to put it down again, I can’t. My fingers have clamped around it. I have to prise them off, and stretch them open.
Judgement gets heavy.
It can be hard to put it down once you’re committed to carrying it.
It can be hard to prise your fingers off … and let go.
But Christ is here to help us, always encouraging us into the light. He even gives his life for us, as a sign that we can look to him and find life.
And that’s a weird story too. Jesus reminds his listeners of the story in the Old Testament when the people had been bitten by snakes and they were dying, but Moses got a statue of a snake made of bronze and put it up on a pole, and anyone who looked up at it would live.
That’s a weird story. Even weirder than the boy who sucks eggs. But I guess it was a different time and a different place, and he told a story that would make sense to them. A story they would understand. Anything to help them understand what he was offering. Just look up, and see.
Christ came to offer life, even to offer his own life. And all we need to do is look up, just look up, and see what he is offering. Yes, it can be hard to let go of our little eggs of judgement. Hard to prise our fingers off, and let go, and come into the light. The light is attractive, but perhaps a bit intimidating if we’re used to living in the dark.
But Christ is here to help us, always encouraging us into the light. That’s where we find life without limit. The joy of life. A space free of judgement. A place of acceptance. A place of welcome. Family, fun and food to share together, and celebrate the joy of life overflowing.
That’s what we are here.
We are Christ’s church: a place free of judgement. A place of acceptance, and safety, and joy.
And when we do well, Christ celebrates.
And when we fail, Christ doesn’t judge.
He just renews the invitation.
And that’s the invitation today.
Join in worship.
Join the singing.
Eat from the loaf and drink from the cup.
Accept that we are all accepted here.
Even me. Even you. Ω
A reflection on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21 by Joel Rothman, Sanctuary, 11 March 2018 (B21). Image found here.