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Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - Year A - Sep 14, 2014

Gospel JN 3:13-17

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.”

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


Reflecting & Living God’s Words

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - Year A - Sep 14, 2014
Gospel JN 3:13-17

Interesting Details:
• Verses 14 to 21 constitute the second part of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus when he came to seek out Jesus during the night. In the first part of the conversation (3:1-13), Jesus told Nicodemus that man has to be reborn through the Spirit to enter eternal life.
• (v.14) The reference of the bronze serpent is from the book of Numbers 21:4. As the bronze serpent was the symbol of salvation for the Israelites who believed in God, the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross is the sign of God's salvation for all mankind.
• (v.14) "Lifted up" implies both being lifted off the earth (being crucified on the cross), and being lifted onto the glory of God (the resurrection).
• (v.16) God's love is the single principle of his salvation for the world, and humankind in particular. It is of this Love that God gifted the world with His Son so that He would come, not to condemn, but to lead mankind to eternal life.
• (v.16) "God gave his only Son" in two senses: (1) The incarnation: "The one who has come down from heaven" (v.13), and (2) The death on the cross: "The Son of Man be lifted up" (v.14)
• (v.16) "believe" - To have eternal life, God only requires one response: that people believe in Jesus.

One Main Point:
The cross is exalted because it brings life: "Everyone who believes in him may have eternal life".

1. Let us reexamine our attitude and mentality during our life of the past month. Let us be honest to ourselves and reflect the priority we have given to Christ and His will. Is Christ the "light" in our life, or is He just one of the "lights", such as the "light" of arrogance, the "light" of acquired wealth, the "light" of power, the "light" of hatred, etc.. Are we ready to bet our life on the "light" of Christ?
2. Let us reflect on the true motives that keep us from embracing the "light" of Christ in our life. Does it make us loving someone that we want to hate? Does it make us realize that we have our own priority? Or is that because we are afraid that it will make clear the evil of our ways?
3. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son" is a declaration of God's love to humankind. The agony of rejection is rather a common human experience. Contemplate over the agony that God has to bear over the way we use our freedom - a gift from God - to reject His love and His desire to restore goodness in mankind.
4. Salvation is belief in God accompanied by works done in God. "Belief in Jesus" and "works done in God" must go together. Let us reflect on the occasions when we lost our faith in God, and ask ourselves how often our works were done in God.


Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross - Year A - Sep 14, 2014

(Numbers 21:4b-9; Psalm 78; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)

Today’s reading from Numbers is a strange one with those biting snakes, the bronze snake on a pole and the way the victims are cured But you don’t have to be an Old Testament scholar to be able to interpret and apply it to our lives, especially the opening verses, "With their patience worn out by the journey the people complained against God and Moses…." In the course of our lives who among us has not been tempted to speak those words? How many detours, interruptions, break-downs, discouragements, disappointments etc. along our life’s journey have stirred up similar sentiments? Like the Israelites in the desert, at times, our "patience [is] worn out by the journey."

With the bedraggled people of Israel we are tempted to complain to God and ask, "Why?" The people’s memories are short, they have already forgotten that they are God’s chosen people and the recipients of God’s promise. We do similarly when we find ourselves in hard times with a difficult desert to pass through. We mustn’t forget who God is and what God has done for us, because when we do, we suffer the consequences, symbolized by the bites by the seraph serpents. For us those "bites" can cause feelings of hopelessness that tempt us to think that God is not with us. Instead, we feel like we are surrounded by those biting snakes in the desert.

In response to their disloyalty God punishes the people and, when they repent, God instructs Moses to make a figure of a snake, put it on a pole and raise it up. Those who looked to it were healed. It’s wasn’t just a magical healing. The bronze snake had power because God gave it power. The Israelites were healed because, by turning towards the snake, they were also turned in faith to God. They trusted God would continue to care for them and so they did what they were supposed to do – live in covenanted relationship with God – more or less. Like the rest of us there would be other temptations away from the path to the Promised Land. But when they strayed they could always come back to the God who first chose them and had guided them through the harsh desert terrain.

Christians reading the story see the raised serpent as a type of the cross. Like the serpent narrative, the cross includes both suffering and healing. The suffering and death of the One on the cross also brings healing to those who look upon him.

Along with our ancestors struggling through the harsh desert on their way to the Promised Land, we also stumble while we try to stay determined and keep our eyes fixed on our goal. Like them we are called to trust – despite the obstacles that tempt us to give up and go back to some former place of slavery. But the One who covenanted with the people has also made a permanent commitment with us through Christ and his cross. We exalt over the cross today because it’s our sure reminder that God will help us complete God’s plan for us – even with all our stumbling and wrong turns along the way.

The cross reminds us that God is in charge and has a plan for our ultimate well-being. Can we trust the God who has made a promise to us and, through the cross, guarantees to see that promise come to completion? We sign ourselves with the cross as we enter and leave church today and as we begin and end our prayers. Each time we do that we remember the God of the Promise who will always be part of our journey. Signing ourselves with the cross also "reminds" God of God’s promise to be faithful tous.

A young woman shows off her newly-received engagement ring. A newly married couple wear wedding bands that were blessed and exchanged, along with life-promises, at their wedding ceremony. These material signs are reminders and assurances that they will be there for each other "in good times and in bad." When troubles do arise a glance at the ring serves as a reassurance of a commitment made in love.

The cross is that for us – a reminder of a promise God made in love with us and was fulfilled when "the Son of Man [was] lifted up." We have not finished our individual desert treks yet and there probably will be lots of missteps before our journey is finished. In the meanwhile, we do not lose hope as we face our shortcomings and the road that still lies in front of us. Lest we get discouraged and fear dropping out along the way, we look to the cross and the promise of continual help it offers to us. God has given us concrete signs of God’s love for us; in Jesus, the Word made flesh and in the cross which he embraced on our behalf.

We look to the cross with faith in the gratuitous love God has shown us. We are in communion with God and one another, not because of anything we have done, but because of what God decided to do for us. In a manner of speaking it was God’s "bright idea" to draw us out of the darkness of our own doings into the warm light of faith. Through the light we have been given we are reminded that we already have eternal life, "everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." This life has already begun for us here and now.

The reading from the Philippians was also read on Palm Sunday as Jesus was entering Jerusalem to accept his cross. Paul says, "he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." This "emptying" (in Greek "kenosis") is a path of service. Jesus followed and we, his disciples, must do the same. Where was Paul when he wrote this letter? Experiencing the cross of Christ. He had founded the church at Philippi and he wrote the letter while he was in captivity, because of his missionary work, probably in Ephesus.

Paul had looked to the cross of his Master and received the life Jesus promised those who believe in him. Paul may be a prisoner, but his faith in the risen Lord assures him that despite his current suffering, the life he has in Christ is "eternal" – it is now and always. Just as Christ emptied himself, not assuming the rights and dignity owed his divinity, Paul, in imitation of his Master, also submitted himself to the cross of service and the preaching of the Word. Just as Jesus accepted the humiliation of the cross, so Paul embraced the consequences of his preaching – imprisonment and death.

What will heal the wounds of our church community these days? The same dynamism that began it – Christ’s self giving on the cross. So too, we his disciples, empowered by the fruits of the cross, must follow his example of altruistic love so that we can be the sacrament of Christ’s continued presence and self-offering in the world.

Christ and his cross remind us that our King rules not by power and might, but self-denial. The gifts he dispenses to his subjects are not lands and peoples to rule over, but compassion and forgiveness. We look to the cross but our eyes go beyond the cross to Jesus’ triumph over death, his resurrection. As Paul told the Philippians, "God greatly exalted him…." Before the cross we bend our knees and then stand upright to follow his way of self giving and service.

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP