Wild Things In the Wilderness

Lent Wednesday March 21  Numbers 21:4-9   Romans 8:38-39

Where the Wild Things Are
The text we heard from the Old Testament always reminds me of Where the Wild Things Are by Maruice Sendak. It is the story of a young boy named Max, his journey in the wilderness and his defeat of the wild things. The Israelites were also journeying in a wilderness, though not one of their imagination like the one in Max’ bedroom. However, they too were unruly and difficult. Nothing seemed to be going their way and they were terribly unhappy traveling through this great expanse of desert wild lands. The beasts they met were poisonous serpents and to defeat their deadly bite, God instructed Moses to create a great symbolic staff. On the staff he was to put a bronze serpent, then lift it high in the air on this poll. The people were to stare intently at this thing that filled them with such fear and they would not die.

Max’ journey into the wild lands puts him face to face with several terrible wild beasts with terrible teeth and terrible yellow eyes. He defeats them with the magic of staring into their eyes without blinking. He defeats and tames the wild and dangerous things by looking directly at them without flinching.

Looking unflinchingly at our own lives is hard. There are times when our once familiar lives suddenly seem like a great uncharted forest. A wilderness; a wild land. Our wild beasts, our serpents, in the wilderness of life can take on many forms. Sometimes, they are living things. People who have hurt us or want to hurt us. Sometimes the wild beasts are the external forces in life like, storms or natural disasters, financial problems, illnesses and loss. Sometimes the serpents are what we see reflected in the mirror. Our own failings and shortcomings; our past decisions and mistakes that haunt us. Perhaps even the greatest and most fearsome beast of all: death itself.

Not looking at these things does not make them go away. Ignoring or pretending that there are not monsters in our wilderness or that they will not hurt us or even that the serpent like parts of ourselves will not harm others does not help either. But God gives us the strength and power to look those wild beasts in the eyes.

There are many reasons that Christian churches have crosses or crucifixes in them and there are equally as many reasons Christians have for wearing crosses. One of those reasons is like that serpent of bronze on the high pole and like Max’ staring down the wild things. Before Jesus’ death on the cross, crosses were symbolic of cruel punishment, of the helpless being crushed beneath heartless power, of unavoidable and merciless death. Of snake pits and broods of poisonous serpents, lands filled with terrible monsters with terrible huge teeth. But now, the cross symbolizes God’s defeat of those things. His defeat of them for us. There is no monster God cannot defeat. This means that we do not have to fear looking at the worst things in our lives.

St Paul writes, ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ I believe we could add to that list any fearful thing we ever encounter, even the fearful parts of ourselves. God has granted us Max’ magical power of staring at the terrible beasts and mastering them.

As we come closer to Holy Week when we will see the Son of Man, Jesus, lifted up in the wild world so full of fearsome things, let us look to his cross without flinching. It is God’s love of us that sends him to willingly climb up that cross, God’s love for us that makes him able to look unflinchingly into death, God’s love with us as we face any fear we may have.  

For we may be convinced that neither death, nor life, nor illness or pain, nor struggles with those we love, nor anything we have every done, nor the unknown future that lies ahead, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the gracious and powerful love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

One thought on “Wild Things In the Wilderness

  1. Pingback: Room For Fear « Life in a Mountain Town

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