We celebrate today the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
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In Numbers 21:5-9, we find that the people of Israel were afflicted with serpents in the wilderness because of their sin. God instructed Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” The bronze serpent points to the cross of Christ which defeats sin and death and obtains everlasting life for those who believe.
The result of Jesus “being lifted up on the cross” and His rising and exaltation to the Father’s right hand in heaven, is our “new birth in the Spirit” and adoption as sons and daughters of God. God not only redeems us, but He fills us with his own divine life and power that we might share in His glory.
St. Paul speaks often about the cross in his letters. He says that his only boast is in the cross of Jesus. He frequently reminds us that there is no work we do that earns us redemption. Rather, through the cross, God has done the work of uniting Jews and Gentiles. He preached that God had nailed our sins and their resulting guilt to the cross; when Jesus died on the cross so did our guilt.
The mystery Paul preached is that it was the very instrument that put Jesus to death that was also the means of our new life. What we could not do, God did.Paul concluded that we have reason to exult because the power of sin and death are conquered through the cross.
Jesus said in the Gospel of John: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus came to this world to help us through life, to teach us how to truly live. By becoming human like us, He showed us it can be done. He wants to have a relationship with us, to dwell within us. Paul also told us today that Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being human in likeness; He humbled Himself, being obedient even to death for us.
I asked myself a question during my reflection on the readings: How do these teachings fit into the picture of life: denying ourselves, losing our lives, and following the crucified One? Well, God wants us to love. Because that is God’s purpose for us, He builds it into our nature. We want to love and we feel terrible if we don’t love.
Now anybody who has ever loved knows that it costs, but they still want to do it. They want to give things to those they love, to do things for them. They help them bear their burdens. They stick with them through difficult times. It hurts. That is the denying of self, the losing of life.
Sr. Marsha Sinetar said in an article: “If your love is broad and deep so that, for example, you want to change the system to help those who are being squashed by it, you might get threatened, beat up, or killed.” It happened to persons like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus of Nazareth.
This is all for love, for relationship: we are all called to this cross. The cross of Jesus gives us many things to reflect on: pain, suffering, sacrifice; but most importantly, justice, humility, and love.