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Readings for the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross

1. Numbers 21, 1-9

  • With their patience worn out by the journey.  This could have been said about our own time, about those affected by burnout.  I can show my empathy with a slight lethargy in my voice.  The people complained.  At first hearing it sounds very common, but it refers to our ancestors in the faith, a special people.
  • And not just any complaint, but they complained against God.  No trivial matter, and my reading must not sound trivial.  Why have you brought us up from Egypt?  I think of those whose dreams of well being have been upset by circumstance, or those who had accommodated to “the way things are.”  It should sound like a bitter cry from a people who have met with disappointment for years.
  • But I won’t overdo their complaint about this wretched food. 
  • Am I shocked by God’s response?  The Lord sent among the people saraph serpents which bit the people.  However I read the words, I must keep in mind the outcome.  Then the people came to Moses and said, We have sinned.  They did acknowledge that they had done wrong.
  • Now for the foreshadowing of today’s Gospel.  The Lord said to Moses: Make a saraph and mount it on a pole.  But is this consistent with the divine command-ment against images?  I remember that the “Books of Moses” have their share of inconsistencies.  Let me leave this matter to the homilist and read what it says.
  • What matters most is to show that God’s word will be fulfilled.  It says: If any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.  And so they did.  I should show my own sense of wonder at a God whose word always comes to pass.
  • If I read carefully, some of my listeners will recall the shield of the Greek Asclapius.  Yes, in some cultures snakes have been associated with healing.  I think I can handle the ambivalence about snakes in the reading.
  • Climax: They will live.  The God of Abraham, Our God, is a God of life. 
  • Message for our assembly: These scriptures – all scriptures – are about us and our acceptance of God.  The desert is not a comfortable place, but we are all called to find God there.  Let us identify with the stories we hear.
  • I will challenge myself: To narrate in a spirit of prayer.  How, after all, would the people complain against God except in their prayer?  Listen to the psalms, and to the cries of refugees.  This is more than a grievance filed against an employer!

2. Philippians 2, 6-11

  • Paul repeats the most famous hymn of the servant of God, and I love to say it, almost sing it.
  • It begins boldly and so will I.  Our faith is not based on legendary heroes who gained honor among their peers, but on a slave who became humble and obedient, suffering the humiliation of death on a cross.
  • Many statements in Jon Sobrino’s work nag at me.  This one is fully in tone with the hymn: God’s nature has been revealed especially in the degradation of Jesus.  Jesus is exalted not as a result of what he suffered but in his suffering itself, which according to John’s Gospel he continues to carry.
  • Paul uses this example as an agenda for Christians (in the verse before the hymn itself, a verse not assigned today).  We don’t just look on him. We adopt his attitude, becoming like him! 
  • Central point: He emptied himself.  Christ is among us as a servant – though his status was divine -- obedient to the very end, in great humiliation.  And he did it freely to share our own humble existence and the shame of death.
  • The message for our assembly is in the central verse, which Sobrino echoed in his work.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him.  Let us identify with the humble, obedient Christ who rises to exaltation.
  • I will challenge myself: To make these first century images self-evident to the people, so that we understand something more today about the Jesus we proclaim as Lord.

Gospel. John 3, 13-17

  • No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.  Exaltation is in the air.  This evangelist interpreted Jesus’ death that way: So must the Son of Man be lifted up.  For all the history that links this feast with the rise of a state church, I must remember where it all began, our celebration of full revelation through that cross of scandal and shame.
  • I hear an echo of the first reading: Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert.  All this is not just for show, a spectacle along the line of the testing in the desert.  It is for us: So that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
  • Our faith in God is a relationship above all.  More than any other evangelist, John has made this clear.  God gave his only Son.  Jesus teaches us with his life and death who is our God, the God who reveals self to us even today.
  • God gave his Son.  God sent his Son.  I hear it affirmed twice in a very short space, and I do not doubt what I hear.  Once more I hear the echo and I will repeat it for the assembly’s benefit.  That the world might be saved through him. 
  • The evangelist is in line here with the apostle, who also said that God calls first and we respond to that call.  We believe, and I repeat this second leitmotiv twice: everyone who believes in him.
  • Message for our assembly: Everyone who believes in him means you and me, old and young, restorationists and innovators, all those listening today.  Again, I repeat the vision of one witnessing church that the apostles bequeathed us.
  • I will challenge myself: To say everything with admiration for God, for God’s love that persists throughout our refusal to believe.  And, to admire how easy God has made it for us.  We have only to give ourselves over to Jesus, the exalted one.

Word to Eucharist: Are our eyes today on Jesus, the one sent by God out of love?  Or is it just a verse we show off at sporting events?

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