Wild Lectionary: Of Vipers and Humans

rattle snake - Ont August, 2012.jpg
Ontario Rattlesnake by Svinda Heinrichs

Advent 3 C

Luke 3:7-18

By: Svinda Heinrichs

Predators often get a bum rap. “Brood of vipers,” John the Baptist calls the gathered crowds. Why is that such a bad thing? After all, vipers, that is, venomous snakes, just are what they are created to be, and do what they are created to do – use their poisonous venom to catch and subdue their dinner. As I am wont to say, “They’re just trying to earn a living.” Humans are right to be wary of them, but to call a group of humans a brood of vipers gives vipers a bad name!

Snakes generally lead solitary lives until it is time to mate and, in my part of the world, time to hibernate, which is about half of the year. Like other cold-blooded creatures, they sequester themselves below the frost line, relying on the earth’s warmth to stop themselves from freezing. Snakes also gather together by the hundreds, even thousands, to share a collective underground burrow to stay warm and wait out the dangerous cold of winter. It is what they do every year. And when the warmth of spring arrives, they burst out en masse, first to mate in a massive bundle of coils, and then to head off in separate directions to hunt for their first meal in a long, long time. How could they do otherwise and still be snakes?

I suppose this is precisely where humans go so wrong – we forget who we are created to be and what we are created to do. As God’s created beings we are made by Love to love and to be loved. Being human means that we are loveable and capable of loving. To do and be otherwise causes us deep pain.

It seems that the people gathering with John the Baptist at the river sensed that something was amiss in their lives and that they needed to turn back to a way they’d lost sight of. John’s responses to their questions are unremarkable, simplistic even: if you have extra, share; if you work in a position of power, don’t abuse it, instead treat all people fairly and justly. This message, it seems, was not just for Jews, but as the passage just before this one states, “[for] all flesh” (v 6). Luke emphases this by having tax collectors, who could be Jews or Gentiles, and soldiers, who were most likely Gentiles, ask John what they should do (v 12-14).

John’s teaching and actions are all in preparation for the coming of one more powerful than he. Maybe John’s fairly low-bar, kindergarten instructions (share out of your excess and don’t exploit others) prepares those gathered and us for the step that Jesus offers. Jesus, who is Emmanuel, Love-with-us, invites us to live fully the love we are created to be and do. To the extent that we do, we will be able to see and interact with all created beings as they are created by God to do and be – a viper is a viper; and a human a human.


Svinda calls Maynooth, Ontario, and a piece of Land close by home. Both homes are in the unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation. The cabin on the Land is on the ancient shores of what was Shawashkong Lake. Svinda is a minister in the United Church of Canada, most recently with Bancroft-Carlow Pastoral Charge in Bancroft, Boulter, Baptiste, and L’Amble, Ontario. Having built a barn to house the two newly arrived miniature donkeys, she is finding her way as a farmer ever embracing her life’s motto “How hard can it be?” She and her spouse, Marilyn Zehr, have started a forest church called Cathedral of the Trees. We meet on the Land once a month plus special occasions. For more visit riseabove470.wordpress.com

Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.

2 thoughts on “Wild Lectionary: Of Vipers and Humans

  1. Mary Lysecki

    Seems like John’s low bar, kindergarten instructions are a little too difficult for settler Canadians. We are still not sharing with the first peoples of this land and we are continuing to exploit them.

  2. Pingback: Of Vipers and Humans – Rise Above

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