Alene Campbell-Langdell

Whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

—Numbers 21:9

God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world…

— John 3:17

There is a legend that says St. Patrick rounded up all the snakes in Ireland and drove them out, and that is why there are no snakes on the island. I’m sometimes surprised that God’s response to the people’s need for safety from the poisonous snakes in Numbers doesn’t look more like St. Patrick’s. Why not get rid of the snakes? Perhaps they are serving an ecological purpose. Or perhaps God simply loves the snakes as part of creation.

Regardless of the reason, the answer God gives to Moses seems strange: if you take the time to stop and really look at the snake, you’ll live. It reminds me of Sister Patricia Terry’s reflection in this column two weeks ago and her challenge to us to truly see our neighbors.

We have been taught to believe as a society that our safety depends on certain people being condemned—being punished or put behind bars. We have been taught that our safety depends on other people being taken out of society. Yet, if Jesus’ death on the cross is to represent all of us, he must represent all of us—even the parts of us or society that feel poisonous.

Reflection: What would it mean in our daily lives to see the brokenness in our society, name it, and then seek healing rather than punishment?

The Rev. Alene Campbell-Langdell, ASW, is a bi-vocational priest who serves as a supply priest in various churches throughout the diocese. Her weekday job is as a crisis clinician working with adolescents.