EXALTATION OF THE CROSS
September 14th, EXALTATION OF THE CROSS
This feast proclaims the triumph of Jesus on the cross. What was the nature of that triumph? It was firstly the triumph of life over death. Those who put Jesus to death did not have the final say, because God the Father raised him high, in the words of Saint Paul in today’s first reading.
It was also the triumph of love over hatred. Human hatred for Jesus did not have the last word, because in and through Jesus crucified, the love of God for humanity was shining brightly.
When contemplating Jesus on the cross, we ought not to look at those paintings that are far too beautiful and do not represent the harsh reality of the harrowing ordeal.
“It seems that the protagonist of today’s readings is the serpent, and there is a message here”.
Yes, “there is a profound prophecy in this presentation of the serpent”, which, was the first animal to be presented to man, the first that the Bible mentions” and defines as the smartest of the wild animals God created.
The serpent’s figure is not beautiful, it always provokes fear. Even if “the snake’s skin is beautiful, the fact remains that the snake’s behaviour is scary.
The Book of Genesis “describes the serpent as ‘the most cunning’”, but also that “he is a enchanter that has the ability to fascinate, to charm you”.
Moreover, “he is a liar, he is jealous; it is because of the devil’s envy — the serpent’s envy — that sin entered the world”.
He has “this ability to ruin us with seduction: he promises you many things, but when the time comes to pay you he pays badly, he is an evil payer”.
However, the serpent “has this ability to seduce and to charm”.
Paul, for example, “was angry with the Christians in Galatia who gave him much to do”, and he said to them, “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? You who were called to freedom, who has bewitched you?”.
It was the serpent himself who corrupted them “and this was nothing new: the people of Israel were conscious of it”.
In today’s first reading, the people of Israel cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord’. However, when they looked upon the bronze serpent they experienced the Lord’s life-giving mercy.
However, when they looked upon the bronze serpent they experienced the Lord’s life-giving mercy. When we look upon the face of the Lord on the cross, we too find mercy; we experience the cross as the throne of grace.
Today’s Gospel (Jn 3:13-17) tells us that “Jesus himself explained Moses’ act a bit further to Nicodemus”: that just as he had “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”.
We are told that “the bronze serpent was a figure of Jesus raised up on the Cross”.
For what reason, would “the Lord choose this bad, ugly figure?”.
Simply “because Jesus came to take all our sins upon himself”, becoming “the greatest sinner without having ever committed a sin”.
This is why Paul tells us that Jesus became sin for us. Using this figure, then, Christ became a serpent. “It’s an ugly figure!”, but He really did “become sin to save us”.
This is the message in today’s Liturgy”. This is precisely “Jesus’ path: God became man and bore his sin”.
In the Second Reading from the Letter to the Philippians (2:6-11), Paul explains this mystery, and it was done out of love: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not retain any privilege of being as God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross”.
I repeat that Jesus “emptied himself: he became sin for us, he who knew no sin”.
This, therefore, “is the mystery”, and “we can say that he became like a serpent, so to speak, which is ugly and disgusting”.
There are many beautiful paintings, which may help us to contemplate “Jesus on the cross. But the reality of it was very different: he was completely torn and bloodied by our sins”.
Moreover, “this is the way that he has taken in order to defeat the serpent in his field”.
Therefore, we ought to always “look at Jesus’ cross, not at those well-painted artistic crosses”, but instead at the “reality of what the cross was at that time”.
To “look at his path”, recalls us that he “emptied himself and lowered himself in order to save us”.
“This is also the Christian’s path”.
Those who put Jesus to death did not have the final say, because God the Father raised him high, in the words of Saint Paul in today’s first reading. It was also the triumph of love over hatred. Human hatred for Jesus did not have the last word, because in and through Jesus crucified, the love of God for humanity was shining brightly
Indeed, “if a Christian wants to make progress on the path of the Christian life, he must lower himself, as Jesus lowered himself: this is the path of humility”, which means “bringing humiliations upon yourself, as Jesus did”.
This is precisely the message given to us in “today’s liturgy on this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross”. ,
Today’s feast celebrates the good news that God turned the tragedy of Calvary into a triumph for us all. Through the cross, God’s life-giving love and mercy was embracing us all. Today’s feast also reminds us that in our own personal experiences of Calvary, the Lord is present with us in a loving and merciful way, working on our behalf to bring new life out of our suffering and dying.
Let us ask the Lord “to give us the grace that we ask of Our Lady at the foot of the Cross: the grace to cry, to cry out of love, to cry out of gratitude, because our God loved us so much that he sent his Son to lower himself and allow himself to be crushed in order to save us”.
Fr. Antonio Curto, C.P. (September 14th, 2020)