And I’m not talking about grass snakes, or the apparently dodgy but elusive British adder. In Colorado, our snakes rattle.
Recently, someone in our locality decided to impress his friends by picking up a passing rattlesnake. He was bitten twice. The venom surged through his veins at such speed there was no time to get him to hospital, so he was rushed to a local vet. There he received an anti-venom injection usually reserved for inquisitive dogs. It saved his life.
It seems that a lot of people try to pick up snakes. In the southern states of America, there are even some sects that include dancing with rattlers as part of their worship. They believe this is a demonstration of their faith, which is obviously not that great because many of them get bitten. They also take it in turns to sip poison, which is just downright silly. I used to complain about the watery blackcurrant juice served up at nonconformist Communion services, but after hearing about these crazies I’ll never moan again. Apparently, nobody has mentioned to them that the text in Mark’s Gospel about not being harmed by snakes and drinking poison is not included in some early manuscripts. Awkward.
According to one survey, half of all rattlesnake bites happen because someone has tried to pick them up. Virtually all of these are male, and 90% of the incidents are alcohol-related.
This proves two things. Apparently, snakes look more attractive when you’ve had a beer or three, and men are the main culprits. So why do they do it? Apparently, it’s to impress. Call it macho madness or unrestrained ego, but fiddling around with fanged ones is the habit of those who want to prove their courage. Being seen is a primary human need. From our earliest years, whether we’re wobbling on a bike with stabilisers or demonstrating the proficiency of our bowels by producing a splendid specimen for the potty, we beg our parents to notice us. ‘Look at me!’
Sadly, some of us never grow out of that hunger to be seen, and we spend our whole lives feeling anxious about what others think of us or posturing ourselves to deliberately impress. Ironically, showing off normally has the reverse effect. When the focus of our conversation is us, where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we paint ourselves as self-centred and even pathetic. Posturing is counterproductive.
And this driven appetite to impress can affect our faith. Jesus used his strongest words to rebuke the pray-and-display Pharisees, who peppered their intercessions with phrases that tickled ears and turned heads, and used make-up to appear drawn and fatigued so the world would know that they were fasting. And when offering time came around, the dropping of a coin was accompanied by the equivalent of a trumpet fanfare as they shamelessly announced their generosity to all. Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. Blind guides. And, interestingly, snakes.
So let’s beware of the temptation to advertise the good things we do. When we’re tempted to casually mutter, ‘When I was praying at 5am this morning…’, let’s not bother. Look jolly when you fast. Don’t wave that banknote around before you place it on the offering plate. Let’s practise the discipline of secrecy, mugging others with kind surprises but then retreating quickly before they discover the identity of the one who blessed them. When the opportunity to show off becomes available, let’s leave it well alone.
And if you happen to come across a passing reptile, do yourself a favour and ignore it.
Jeff Lucas is teaching pastor at Timberline Church, Colorado. He is an international speaker, author and broadcaster Follow Jeff @jeffreylucas