Thinking on Wednesday about Moses viewing the Promised Land from high up on the far side of the Jordan Valley, reminded me of the dawn Easter Vigil Eucharist followed by picnic breakfast, shared with friends at the ancient Byzantine church on Mount Nebo back in 1998. The photograph I took of a tall cross with figures representing intertwined serpents on a terrace looking west toward Jerusalem, came to mind.It was made by Giovanni Fantoni, and reflects Jesus' reference to a story about Moses, as he speaks to his disciples about his impending death.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. That whosoever believeth in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14)
He was referring to the account of how Moses dealt with a terrifying plague of snakes in the wilderness.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (Num 21:9)
Looking upon the totemic snake somehow quenched the pain of the snake-bite and the fear it aroused, causing afflicted people to die as much of fright as of poison. A case of 'look and live'. This was the idea which the evangelist John adapted to interpret the meaning of Jesus self sacrifice on the cross, with its power to attract and reconcile people to God and each other. He has Jesus say this.
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself. (John 12:32)
Did this originate with Jesus and find expression in John's writing? It's impossible to say. What matters is that it truly reflects the experience at the heart of Gospel faith down the centuries. The story of Jesus' passion, however it comes alive in human imagination, leads to a realisation of the infinite love and compassion of God revealed on the cross.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)