St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish holiday celebrated by lovers of the “old country.” I observe it in deference to a great-grandfather who was a policeman in Dublin before immigrating to America and his daughter, my paternal grandmother, who used to rock me while she sang “Irish Lullaby” in a lilting brogue.
Most people think only of wearing green clothing on St. Patrick’s Day. (In my school days you either wore green or got pinched black and blue.) But the holiday really observes the anniversary of the death in 431 A.D. of Patrick, a missionary to Ireland who founded 365 churches—each with a school beside it.
According to legend, Patrick used his shepherd’s staff to get rid of all the venomous snakes in Ireland—permanently. We need more men like Patrick around today. Over my lifetime, I’ve had more than one run-in with snakes. When my son was about 13, we lived in Alabama surrounded by woods. He came in the house one day and told me there was a snake sunning on the front steps. Since he was already taller than me, I gave my initial cowardly response: “Get a hoe and kill it.” His answer was, “I’d do that, Mom, but it would get blood all over everything.”
So I loaded the rifle and, after seeing it was a young timber rattler, I shot it twice. (Yes, I hit it both times!) I left the corpse disposal for my husband. But, instead of commending my aim, he noticed a small chip off the brick steps and asked why I didn’t pick up the snake with a hoe, throw it on the ground and then shoot it. (Husbands can ask the dumbest questions!) I replied that I didn’t have a hoe with a 20-foot handle.
After we adopted a large outside dog, I was sure a snake would never show itself around our house again. But one slithered right past the dog house and made its home in the oil pan in the garage until discovered. It makes no difference that this was a supposedly harmless snake. “The only good snake is a dead snake” expresses my feelings perfectly. And this one quickly became a “good” snake.
Later we moved to another state and a less wooded area which got rid of the snakes at our house, but I’d like a more permanent solution, like Patrick’s, for the “snakes” in my life—none of which are harmless. What am I talking about?
Like the first serpent in the Garden of Eden, there is a little viper that darts at a Christian and hisses, “Did God say that? Really? Possibly there are certain circumstances where it isn’t true.” Although he seems to be small and inconsequential, his venom is deadly—this viper of doubt.
The cobra appears as a charmer. He spreads his hood and sways gently to an inaudible tune: “Pray later. Read the Bible tomorrow. Wait awhile. There is time—plenty of time.” After his victim is mesmerized, the cobra of procrastination can strike at will.
The size and strength of his coils are the python’s weapons. He slowly wraps himself around his victim with anxieties ranging from present legitimate concerns to future unlikely catastrophes. He begins to squeeze until his captive is reduced to a mass of paralyzing, suffocating fear.
After the exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel had plenty of snake trouble. They lived in a desert area very unlike Ireland (think all brown versus all green). Despite God feeding them, providing water, and leading them in the wilderness, they rebelled against Him and murmured and complained about Him. God sent fiery serpents to bite them and many died (Numbers 21). But He also provided a divine snake-bite kit. He told Moses to make a serpent of brass, lift it up on a pole and tell the snake-bitten people that all they had to do was look at it and they would live. (How could you hang a brass serpent on a straight pole? Obviously, there would have to be a cross-piece to hold it, so Moses held up a cross.)
Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up: that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15 NIV).
What a simple antidote for a deadly problem! Look at your sin and what your sin has caused. Then look at the remedy God has provided: His only Son lifted up on a cross. Look up and live! But not everyone did, then or now.
I guess some people—unlike us Irish—don’t mind being knee-deep in snakes.