Exaltation of the Cross
Yesterday was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The Scripture at Mass was deeply pedagogical with a really important message for each one of us. The First Reading speaks of the Covenant as it originally was convened between the Hebrew people and God in Exodus. By looking at the origins of the Covenental relationship, we can learn a great deal about our relationship with God today; consider the Psalm yesterday "Do not forget the works of the Lord!".
The first reading was from Numbers 21:4b-9. The Book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible. It's name was taken from the census, or counting of the people, that takes place in chapters 1 and 26. The book was composed over a period of about 1,000 years. It tells the story of thirty-eight years of wandering in the desert from Sinai to the Plains of Moab just before the invasion of Canaan under Joshua. On a deeper level it is the story of how God acted in history to guide and protect His chosen people from Sinai to the Jordan River.
It was designed to give young people a vision for their lives. The book calls them to risk, to step beyond the confines of the ways their elders had gone about living. Numbers tells young people they can and must forge a future about which people of former times had only dreamed. It challenges them to be a generation that will bring about a whole new way of life and set the standard for God's people in future centuries. This is the text we heard yesterday:
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!”
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,which bit the people so that many of them died.Then the people came to Moses and said,“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.”So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
This text is quoted by Jesus in the Gospel:
"...just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,This theme is repeated and developed later at Jn 8:28:
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me."
Reflecting on this, one starts to build the sense that the work of The Cross was planned from the beginning, especially when one considers what a symbol it has become for us all and how it is now held up before all people as the means of our salvation.
The Second Reading, Phil 2:6-11, is about kenosis. St. Paul's Epistile to the Philipians was written as early as twenty years after Jesus' death. The great Christ-hymn we hear in the reading offers us a fully developed Christology stating that Jesus is equal to God, but emptied Himself, became man, and humbled himself to die on the Cross, and that to Him now belongs the worship of all creation, the adoration that God, through the Prophet Isaiah, said was due to Him alone (cf. Is 45:23). It is about humility before God that stands in stark contrast to Adam's reaching for divinity and god-like knowledge and power in the Genesis story of creation. Father Kevin Hale, my own parish priest, developed this theme really well in his homily, which you can listen to yourself by downloading the podcast here.
Another priest of our diocese, Father James Mackay, uses the imagery of the readings to demonstrate the important theme of free will and choice, linking this with the reality of pain and suffering in the world:
"The capacity to choose means we face the risk of not getting what we want. Only then can we start to make comparisons between the life we would want, and the life we’re living. Freedom opens us up to suffering. One goes with the other."Please do take a moment to read Fr.James' excellent homily on this in full here.