Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us. So Moses prayed for the people. Numbers 21:7b
When we come across this passage in the Bible, especially in Lent, it is jarring. Why would God send snakes to the people of Israel for complaining about the food? Sounds like a bit of an overreaction. I’m not going to ask God to rain down snakes on my children if they complain about having to eat vegetables.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of these snakes that bite people and the sobering fact that some people actually die. While this isn’t unimportant we could be missing another important detail: Moses heard the cries of the people and prayed for them.
As followers of Christ we can follow in the footsteps of not only Christ but of the people of Israel especially. Moses.
Moses had a tough job, not only did he have led people from slavery to Promised Land but they weren’t happy about it. They complained and complained a bunch. The food wasn’t good, the water tasted bad, they were lost and things seemed better in Egypt under an oppressive dictator where they were slaves for the good of Empire.
Had God called me to led the people of Israel I would have left them wandering in the desert after about a month of complaining.
But therein lies a problem, I would have abandoned the people.
They can be the thorn in our side or the safety net to catch us when we fall. People at their best can show the wonderment of God’s mercy and goodness, at their worst they make us hang our head in shame.
People are vitally important in all of our lives; we are inherently social creatures.
Being a hospital chaplain I have the opportunity to be with people in the best and worst times of their lives. The world around us does not stop because someone close to us has a heart attack or is involved in a car accident. Some days I have to remember that I’m am there to serve, talk and be with people and nothing else. People are at the heart of the gospel, the other.
Moses had more than likely hundreds of thousands of people to guide and lead and he still remembered them even when they gave him every opportunity to.
Instead of saying “well you shouldn’t have complained,” or “serves you right,” Moses prayed for the people; he called on God for mercy and God answered.
This Lent the scandal of the cross is that while Christ might have been crucified to settle a first century judicial system penalty it is so much more than that.
This entire Lenten journey is not solely about us and our needs, but for all of humanity, you know… the people.
God help to remember the people around us. Guide us through our wilderness. Remind us of your grace and presence this Lent. In Christ Holy Name, Amen.