Thursday, September 13, 2018
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!" Numbers 21:4B-5
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8
Jesus said to Nicodemus: "No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And 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." John 3:13-15
“Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other! (Isaiah 45:22)."
Even the name of today’s Liturgy would shock the residents of ancient Palestine. The Exaltation of the…cross? The cross? Why would anyone exalt the instrument of execution? As the emblem of a slave’s death and a murderer’s punishment, the cross was naturally looked upon with the most profound horror.[i]
However, these kinds of cultural contradictions abound in Christianity. Take the Magnificat. The song does not heap praise on the few, the proud, and the rich. Instead, Christ is ushered into the world with his mother singing about how God exalts the lowly, the hungry and the poor.
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
We are exalting opposites. Now consider the first reading from Numbers. When Moses asked, God could have answered his prayer differently. God could have saved the people from the serpents by removing them directly.
Instead of taking away the serpents in answer to their prayer, God provided a remedy in the form of a serpent. Just as God did not take away the penalty of sin [death] when Adam sinned, God provided a remedy in Jesus Christ who died in our place to pay for our sins on the cross. A Serpent was the reminder and emblem of the curse. It was through the Serpent [Satan] that Adam and Eve were seduced, and brought under the curse of God. On the cross, Jesus Christ was made a curse for us. Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."[ii]
To look on the serpent on the pole is the same as trusting Christ's death on the cross for our salvation and mercy.
"Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live." (Numbers 21:8)." Notice, too, the invitation to receive salvation that the Lord gives in Isaiah. See the passage quoted above. “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!” (Isaiah 45:22)
Christ is ushered out of this world totally spent. Empty. Not an ounce of blood is left. Not a drop of sweat remains. Christ embodies the opposite. Unlike Adam who tried to emulate God, Christ came down from heaven to emulate mankind. It is through the meditation on his body nailed to the cross for us that we receive mercy.
We have been seduced by opposites…but the wrong opposites. We have been seduced by the power of careers, the power of wealth, the power of beauty, the power of strength. We have even taken the simple wooden executioner’s cross and made it into ornaments of gold and silver.
Instead, put yourself on Golgotha’s Hill. Mediate on the sight of blood and flesh, on the smell of death, on the tender touch of Mary holding her son one last time, on the sounds of Christ’s last words, and on the bitter taste of the wine-soaked-sponge. Exalt the cross that killed a king. But, our faith does not end at the cross. It BEGINS there. What are we to do next? What shall we do in thanksgiving for that gift of mercy? God offers it unconditionally. Do we take it unconditionally or shall we do something about it?
Behold. Your Mother. Tune in tomorrow for the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.