Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30
"They failed to understand that he was talking to them about the Father." (John 8:27)
The German writer and artist who went under the name of Joachim Ringelnatz was probably best known for his humorous poems. One of his most popular rhymes is about two ants who lived in Hamburg and decided to walk to Australia. They had gone about half a mile through the town when their legs felt tired, so, as the poet puts it, they wisely decided to give up the last part of the journey.
The words "patience" and "perseverance" don't seem to have been part of the vocabulary of the Israelites in the desert. Their complaints began as soon as they left Egypt and continued until they reached the promised land. There was a tug-of-war between them and Moses. Only when things went wrong did they reluctantly turn back to God. Archaeologists have found images of bronze snakes made from copper mined in the desert and used as amulets against snakebite. The author of the book of Numbers has used the imagery to say that it is God who heals.
The Pharisees in the Gospel are much like their ancestors in the desert. But instead of worshipping a golden calf they are more subtle. Their god has become themselves. Their rituals emphasise their own importance. In the desert, danger frightened the people to repentance. The Pharisees see no need. We will see next week that when Jesus is lifted up on the cross they will mock him. It is only those who are lowly in heart who will see him for who he really is.
Holy Spirit, temper our pride with humility. When we are tempted to self-righteousness, remind us that all we have and do comes to us through your grace. Of ourselves we can do nothing. We make our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.