14 September 2013 (Saturday), The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Num 21:5-9. When the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, to punish their infidelity, Moses raised the statue of a bronze serpent as an antidote, to give them healing from their ills.

Ph 2:6-11. The hymn to Christ who humbled himself, even unto death – but God exalted him above all creation.

Jn 3:13-17. The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”

First Reading: Book of Numbers 21:5-9

The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: John 3:13-17

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just 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.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.


The paradox of the Cross

We Christians affirm our passion for life under the sign of the Cross, which in Roman times was a cruel, inhuman instrument of death. Echoing Our Lord, we strongly oppose any form of torture and above all the death sentence –and yet here we are on today’s feast, exalting the cross on which a wholly innocent man was put to death, who had spent his life helping and healing others.

Jesus had a clear goal in life, to help those in need: the blind regain their sight, the lame to walk, to cleanse lepers, restore hearing to the deaf, and proclaim the good news to the poor  (Lk 7:22). Having seen and heard him, a woman once cried out, “Blessed are the breasts at which you nursed” (Lk 11:27). But this same Jesus, that life-enhancing, Messianic Nazareth, was denied a proper trial, struck and spat upon, dressed as a mock-king with a crown of thorns on his head, scourged and taunted with the phrase “ECCE HOMO!” and hung on a cross. As Isaiah foretold, he was an object of scorn, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him” (Is 53:2).

How can we glory in the instrument of his death, that frightful gibbet where thieves, slaves and criminals were executed and upon which He, led like a lamb to the slaughter, was nailed? It is because this transfixed Jesus gives life after death, just as his Cross becomes the throne on which he will forever be honoured. With the poor thief we can pray: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). The instrument of his death has become the instrument of our life – which is why today we proclaim the triumph of new Life, poured out from the Cross.

During the Exodus journey, “The Lord sent among them fiery serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died” … and then God said to Moses, “Make a serpent and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.” (Num. 21:6) Jesus applies this episode to himself: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). As they looked up at the serpent for healing, so we look up with faith at the transfixed one, and eternal life will flow to us.

Through patience we try to absorb the paschal meaning of whatever suffering comes our way, trusting that a mighty grace flows from the Cross. Of course, we can’t just focus on our own crosses in life. The Cross of Christ empowers us to share in the struggle against oppressors of every sort and stand up for those in our times who are unjustly treated and left in poverty.

Fearlessly, the first disciples spread this message and raised hope among the humble and the poor. Theirs was the Roman world with its own forms of globalization and injustice, yet with the help of grace, and remembering the wounds of Christ, they dared to proclaim his Word even in face of martyrdom. What shall we do in the name of Christ’s saving Cross, for our people, today?


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