There was an article posted over on the SB Nation MLB page the other day that was criticizing the movie Field of Dreams as the worst baseball movie ever just based on it not dealing with the question of race in the first several decades of the existence of professional baseball. I have long had on the back burner a post I would like to write about how our agendas color the way we see everything (and this would be a good example), but it wasn’t that topic that has been stirring in my mind after reading the article. In truth it was just a small throwaway line in the article that sparked my mind. There is a line in the movie where James Earl Jones has a monologue where he talks about what will be essentially a religious pilgrimage for people to this baseball (corn)field in Iowa.
“They’ll watch the game, and it will be as if they have knelt in front of a faith healer, or dipped themselves in magic waters where a saint once rose like a serpent and cast benedictions to the wind like peach petals.”
We have a depiction here of the healing nature of the purity of the game that will seemingly make us whole again. It’s a nice thought, and I think that having played and followed baseball for most of my formative years, and having enough distance between my playing days and now to add a sheen of nostalgia to them, salvation through baseball is still a tempting thought sometimes. The line that followed shaped my thoughts for a couple days following as the author, just as an aside, questions the image of the saint as serpent and jokes about them generally “working for opposite sides”. The joke (and a google search) brought me back to a passage of scripture that is often overshadowed by the one that immediately follows it, and that would be John 3:14-15.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
If it is odd that the image of a serpent and saint would be combined out of the mouth of James Earl Jones, consider me even more surprised that the image of serpent and savior would come out of the mouth of Jesus himself. Given the reference that Jesus is pulling from it is more than a little likely that the image in the movie is borrowing from scripture as well because the picture that Jesus is using of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness fits perfectly into healing nature that the movie is trying to convey about baseball. Jesus is referencing Numbers 21:9 where the people of Israel are once again grumbling about the life they are leading wandering in the wilderness after they have delivered out of slavery in Egypt. After this grumbling reaches the ears of God he sends venomous snakes among them, and many people die, and many more have been bit and are dying. The people call out to Moses to intercede on their behalf, to plead with God to take away these serpents. The response of the Lord is to instruct Moses to make an image of the serpent, and to place it on a pole for the people to see. Moses constructs a bronze serpent and lifts it up on a pole so that the people of Israel, all those who are poisoned and dying can gaze upon it, and when they do they are healed.
The author was correct in his thinking that, on the whole, serpents are associated with the the darkness and wickedness of the world, but in this one very specific case a serpent was the source of healing and salvation for God’s people. Immediately prior to Jesus talking about God “so loving the world”, he is appropriating the image of this serpent, the one that Moses lifted up for the healing and salvation of the young nation of Israel. Whenever he says that whoever believes in this Son who has been given will not perish, he is doing so in the light of the serpent that has been lifted up. If the serpent had not been lifted up on that day on the wilderness then the people would have perished, and the story may have ended there. In comparing himself to this image of the serpent Jesus is identifying something that dwelling in the body of every person alive, which is much more deadly than venom, and is pointing at himself as the source for not just temporary healing, but an eternal deliverance from death itself. Sin has poisoned us all, but when we look on the Son who has been lifted up he offers healing for every one of us. When the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness the people of Israel were healed, now that the Son has been lifted up we have been given this;
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:4