Following Jesus, the Serpent on a Stick

John 3:13-17

13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. (NKJV)

Jesus is speaking. Christians understand Jesus to be the Son of Man. In this reading, Jesus says the Son of Man is in heaven. But Jesus is on earth when he’s saying this. Then Jesus compares himself to a snake on a stick. We are supposed to believe in him, the serpent on a stick, and if we do, we’ll have eternal life.

I’m really confused.

medical symbolA former parishioner once told me I sounded like the “snake in the garden of Eden.” It was during the time when people were upset about my denomination approving gay ministers having partners. To have been compared to a snake helps me to understand this Bible verse from a different perspective.

Jesus was viewed as a serpent (as well as called Beelzebub, ruler of demons) by religious leaders who wanted the old religious laws to be in force. They believed he was promoting evil because he proclaimed a new understanding of God and scriptures. Jesus ate with outcasts and sinners which was a sign that he accepted them and wanted to be in relationship with them. He taught things in opposition to Moses.

Heaven forbid.

At least, that’s what the tradition, the religious community, the institutional “church” believed. Anyone who honors God follows Moses – every well-trained Jew, Muslim, and Christian is taught that.

Jesus’s words help me to understand that he was saying, “Believe the one the current religious tradition (Moses followers) thinks is a serpent – believe in me and my teachings – then you will have eternal life.”

I’m working on a new book. It’s about eternal life. Eternal life, like the kingdom of heaven, is now. In short, eternal life is the quality of life God wants you to experience today. That’s why Jesus came—to show us the way to the quality of life God wants for us—today.

How many of us are following Jesus? How many of us are repaying evil with good? How many are not judging others? How many are accepting outcasts and sinners into their homes to eat with and develop relationships? How many think we should drop bread on our enemies instead of bombs?

Too many modern-day Christians believe in “an eye for an eye” retribution, the teaching of Moses. They don’t believe Jesus’s answer to receiving evil…return evil with good…and turn the other cheek and love your enemies. If you say something like this in public, even in a church, some people will look at you like you’re the snake.

Did you know that snakes are an important part of the ecosystem? They keep the rat and rodent populations under control. And there are lots of rats out there.

Most of the churches in my Bible Belt community would not see me as a “true” believer of the Bible. That’s okay. As a follower of Jesus, the serpent on a stick, I don’t believe in (trust) every written word in the Bible. I’ve found too many passages that promote hatred, harmful treatment, and exclusion. Instead, I trust in Jesus and his teachings.

There’s a big difference between being a Bible believer/lover and a Jesus follower. And I’ve chosen Jesus. That gives me the quality of life God wants for me today, filled with inner peace and harmony. I encourage you to do the same.

[Did I tell you that I started another blog that’s not as much about “religion?” Check it out here – http://pursueharmony.com.]

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