Title: Healing and Hope
Date: March 20, 2011
Texts: Jn 3:1-21
Author: Isaac Villegas
In Fukushima, Japan, when everyone was told to evacuate the nuclear power plants, 50 workers refused to abandon the reactors. They decided to stay and work around the clock, doing all that they could do to try to prevent a meltdown. After being exposed to so much radiation, their bodies will never be the same. For the sake of the people of Japan, for the sake of the land and ocean and animals, the Fukushima 50 sacrificed their bodies.
Those are the people who come to my mind this week as I read the familiar verses from the Gospel of John. The Fukushima 50 help us see what love looks like; they help us see how sacrificial love acts in our world—love for the sake of our world, bearing some resemblance to God’s loved described in our passage: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”
We know how the rest of the verse goes. It seems impossible to be a Christian in American without knowing how the verse ends. I wish the next verse was just as familiar: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:16-17). Our faith in Jesus is not about condemnation; it’s about life, the life of the world, salvation. Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to plant the seeds of life, to cultivate the kingdom of God.
Instead of condemning the world, God wants to save it. The world is the site of God’s love, and that love compels God to sacrifice everything for its salvation, for its life, like the Fukushima 50 sacrificed their bodies for the life of their people. As followers of Jesus, we should be known, not as people of condemnation, but as people of life, people that bring life, people that give their lives for the sake of others.
Our denomination has a vision statement that echoes with the good news we heard from John’s Gospel. Here it is:
“God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy, and peace so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”
I think this is a good summary of what we should be about as God’s people, as followers of Jesus—communities of grace, joy, and peace. And I think the vision of salvation at the end of the statement resonates with our passage from John’s Gospel: salvation as “God’s healing and hope” that “flow[s] through us to the world.” The salvation that Jesus brings has everything to do with healing the world, not condemning it for destruction.
The idea of salvation as healing comes from John 3:14, another verse I wish was as well known as verse 16: Jesus says, “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus identifies himself with the bronze snake from a very strange story in the book of Numbers.
In Numbers 21, the people encounter poisonous snakes, and the snakes get the best of Israel. Many people die, and many more are severely injured. The people ask God for salvation from the serpents, and so God tells Moses to make a snake and to tell everyone to look at it. So Moses crafts a bronze snake and puts it on a pole. Let me read verse 9 from Numbers, chapter 21:
“Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent…and live.”
The people look at the bronze snake and are healed. The serpent becomes medicine from God. That must be why Jesus uses this story to describe why God sent him. Jesus indentifies his mission on earth with that of the bronze serpent in Numbers.
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness to save the people, so will Jesus be lifted up on the cross for our salvation. Like the snake, Jesus becomes our medicine, the embodiment of divine healing. Jesus has come to heal us.
Salvation is about healing. Resurrection is the healing of our bodies, of our lives. Heaven is a place of healing, where our lives are put back together, where what we lack is filled with God’s love. We misunderstand salvation—we misunderstand our resurrection and heaven—if we think that we become something different than what we already are.
At our resurrection, our bodies will not be left behind. Instead, salvation is the way God heals what has been made. Salvation is the way God brings us into wholeness. The shambles of our lives are taken up into God and we are put back together with Christ’s love. Our lives are healed. That is the nature of our salvation—healing.
God doesn’t want to replace us with an upgraded model, the Human 2.0—something faster, smaller, but with more storage. God doesn’t redeem the world by replacing us; instead, God heals us. What has been torn is mended; what was broken is healed; what has fallen apart is brought back together. The mission of Jesus is to bring us into the healing of eternal life, which, as Jesus says, is love. God’s healing is moved by love.
I think one of the worst myths of popular Christianity is that eternal life is something that happens to us only after we die. If we believe, so this myth goes, our eternal life with God starts after we die. But this way of thinking about eternal life doesn’t jive with the Gospel of John.
In John chapter 3, Jesus speaks about something that is starting to happen right now, with his presence on earth: “The light has come into the world,” he says (v. 19). It’s happening; the light has come; eternal life has arrived; God’s love is here. And Jesus ends our passage for today with an invitation to walk in this light right now: he says, “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light” (v. 21).
Christians believe that Jesus shows us what love looks like, the love that is God, the love that created us and sustains us and heals us. When we look at the life of Jesus we see the heart of God, the pulse of the universe. And when we look at Jesus, our healing begins. That’s why Jesus connects his life with the story of the bronze snake in Numbers 21. We are like the Israelites who look and are healed. Our healing starts now as God infuses us with the eternal life of Jesus. We gather together and consider the life of Jesus Christ so that our lives might begin to look like his.
But we aren’t simply interested in what Jesus shows us; instead, we want his life to flow through us. We want the healing and hope of God to flow through us, that we may become united to God, part of God’s movement here on earth. We want God’s eternal love to heal us from the inside, and turn our lives into vessels of healing and hope for the sake of the world. Through Jesus Christ, God doesn’t save us from the outside; God isn’t some kind of external force that repairs us like a clockmaker fixes a clock. Instead, God saves us from the inside. God saves us by becoming human, assuming our flesh, becoming internal to our lives. Jesus is a human body because that’s how God chose to heal us—from the inside, as one us. Jesus doesn’t replace our lives; instead Jesus saves us by becoming like us, living among us, showing us a new way to be human—a humanity that flows with God’s life, with God’s healing and hope for the world, with God’s eternal life and overflowing love.
I think we can see something of this life, an echo of God’s love, in the lives of the Fukushima 50. They refused to leave; they refused to run away. They are willing to sacrifice their health for the sake of their community, because of their love for the world. Jesus also refuses to escape. Instead, he draws close to us and doesn’t run away from the mess of our lives, from all of our self-destructive ways of life, all the ways we damage our lives and the lives of others. He isn’t disgusted or ashamed.
Jesus knows our life from the inside, he knows the dark corners, and he doesn’t run away. Instead he becomes our medicine, healing us from the inside, a presence of light in the depths of our darkness.