Reflection on the Lectionary

Sunday March 10th (Lent 4)

Numbers 21 : 4–9; Psalm 107: 13, 17-22; Ephesians 2: 1–10; John 3 :14–21

by Ruth Marshall (Hanham). Originally prepared for 2021.

The depiction of the snake on a rod is often seen on ambulances around the world. Although it’s said that this sign is the “Rod of Asclepius” the rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine, I cannot but help seeing it as a representation of the snake on a rod made and held up by Moses to cure people of poisonous snake bites. While both are symbols of healing and medicine, the bronze snake is also a reminder of the desire of God to bring healing and restoration.

As I pondered on the bible passages, the words “It’s started but not finished” came to mind. Moses made the bronze snake and put it on a  , as God had instructed but that was a start not a finish, it required those that had been bitten to look up to the bronze snake in order to be healed.

Nicodemus came to Jesus to ask questions and seek understanding, which was a start but not a finish. Nicodemus did not understand Jesus’s instruction of “being born again” and there was no indication at that point that Nicodemus was converted to Christianity. Jesus was informing Nicodemus that the son of man must be lifted up, referring to his own death on a cross. At that point Jesus had started His earthly ministry but had not yet finished it.

Thinking about snakes I recalled the process of the skin shedding that all snakes have to undertake in order to release their growing bodies. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources describes snake skin shedding as: “prior to shedding, the snake’s skin begins to turn bluish and its eyes become opaque, hindering vision. Within a few days, the snake will rub its head on something abrasive to tear open the outer layer. It then works on crawling through the tight quarters, sliding out of the skin, leaving the old skin inside out. This process can take days to a couple of weeks. It’s critical that the snake remains undisturbed during this process. Snakes have eye caps instead of eyelids, and if these thin layers of skin do not properly shed, blindness can result. Remaining skin can also harbor parasites, possibly leading to disease. Intact segments may restrict blood flow, potentially leading to the loss of body parts, and even death”. (

As we enter into this fourth Sunday in Lent we are in a progression towards Easter, that progression has started but has not yet finished. This period of Lent gives each one of us time to reflect. If spiritual growth is to flourish we need time to close our eyes to worldly things, like the snake eyes being opaque during the shedding of skin and focus on God and spiritual things. To take time out from daily routines and to set time aside just to be with God, to be undisturbed like the snake. We need to renew our spiritual body’s, we need to rid ourselves of all that which hinders us from giving our whole self to God, like the snake ensuring that all the old skin has been discarded.

Paul reminds the Ephesians, we are saved, not by good works, but by God’s rich mercy, abundant grace and amazing love. Paul continues “For he raised us from the dead along with Christ, and seated us with him in the heavenly realms, because we are united with Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2 vs 6) Our position in Heaven is already established because we are united in Christ Jesus. It is required of us to inform others of God’s incredible grace, kindness and love. Jesus’s earthly life may have finished, but hiswork in this world although started is not yet finished. As we go through the period of Lent, may we gradually emerge stronger in our faith, and with God’s help, shed off all that may hinder us from following through with God’s will, so that we may continue God’s work on earth towards God’s completion.