10 februari 2013

#69. Fastlagssöndagen...

"Ingen har stigit upp till himlen utom den som stigit ner från himlen: Människosonen. Liksom Mose hängde upp ormen i öknen, så måste Människosonen upphöjas för att var och en som tror på honom skall ha evigt liv." (Joh 3:13-15)

"'Nu är min själ fylld av oro. Skall jag be: Fader, rädda mig undan denna stund? Nej, det är just för denna stund jag har kommit. Fader, förhärliga ditt namn.' Då hördes en röst från himlen: 'Jag har förhärligat det och skall förhärliga det på nytt.' Folket som stod där och hörde detta sade att det var åskan, men några sade att det var en ängel som hade talat till honom. Jesus sade: 'Det var inte för min skull som rösten hördes, utan för er skull. Nu faller domen över denna världen, nu skall denna världens härskare fördrivas. Och när jag blir upphöjd från jorden skall jag dra alla till mig.' Detta sade han för att ange på vilket sätt han skulle dö." (Joh 12:27-33)

Among these self-characterisations, the most startling comes in a soliloquy derived from the Book of Numbers [4 Moseboken]. Thinking back to his origin in heaven and forward to his human death, Yahweh Incarnate recalls, of all unexpected moments, the time when he sent a plague of poisonous snakes – "fiery serpents" – upon the Israelites. Wandering in the desert, they complained of hunger and thirst. The snakes were his reaction to their complaint. After many had died of snakebite, the survivors turned to Moses desperate for relief, more than ready to repent of their crime of complaint. Moses then then prayed to the Lord, who instructed him to to break one of the Sinai commandments and make a graven image of a serpent. "Set it on a pole ," he told Moses, "and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live" ([4 Mos] 21:4-9). Moses obeyed, the plague was lifted, and the people moved on.

Now, alone in the night, more than a millennium later, having committed a captital offense against the religiopolitical establishment i Jerusalem, Jesus imagines himself "lifted up" on the gallows of his day and compares himself, in the condition, to the serpent that Moses "lifted up" on that pole in the desert. The serpent was lifted up so that the dying Israelites could be cured of fatal snakebite. Yahweh incarnate will be lifted up "so that everyone who believe in him shall have eternal life." This is the equation, but it is a deeply shocking equation, for what did the Israelites see when they looked upon the bronze serpent? Antiquarians may say what they will about sympathetic magic or apotropiac medicine. In the story as we now have it, what the Israeiltes saw was a reminder that the Lord had been prepared to kill them in large numbers for no greater offense than complaining of hunger and thirst. When they looked at the bronze serpent, even though it cured them, they saw a reminder of why they had so greatly to fear him. The snakes, after all, were not the cause of their dying. The Lord himself was the cause.

What, then, does Jesus suggest that all mankind will see when they look upon him lifted up on the cross or, later, look upon an image of him in that condition? How can we avoid saying that they will look upon the cause as well as the cure for their distress? To the objection that this comparison is far-fetched, I would reply that it is Jesus himself who has fetched the comparison from afar. The bronze serpent is a detail from an obscure episode in Israelite history. The comparison is so arcane, so recherché, that it can only be fully, provocatively intended. (Miles s. 49-50)

  • Miles, Jack, 2001: Christ; A crisis in the life of God. New York: Vintage Books

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