The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – Readings

Commentary on Numbers 21:4b-9 or Philippians 2:6-11; Ps 77; John 3:13-17

The Gospel reading is from John. He compares Jesus being lifted up on the Cross to the incident in the Book of Numbers (today’s First Reading) where a plague of serpents is sent against the Israelites because of their constant complaining against God. When they beg Moses for help, God tells him to put an image of a serpent on a pole. All those who look at the bronze serpent will be healed.

In a much more radical way, Jesus is also lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life”. And this life comes because Jesus’ giving of his life on the Cross is a sign of his Father’s love for each and every one of us. For, as Jesus will tell his disciples at the Last Supper, “the greatest love a person can show is to give his life for his friends”. And in today’s reading he also says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The word ‘Exaltation’ in the name of today’s feast means a ‘lifting up’ and in the gospel of John Jesus says that he, being “lifted up” will draw all peoples to himself. This “lifting up” refers not only to Jesus being physically raised on the Cross. Following John’s presentation of the Paschal Mystery, Jesus while on the Cross dies, passes to new life (Resurrection), returns to the Father (Ascension), and breathes forth the Spirit (Pentecost). Jesus is totally “exalted” on the Cross.

The alternative First Reading is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. It contains the famous kenosis hymn about Jesus. Kenosis means an ‘emptying’. Jesus was the Incarnate Son of God and shared the divinity with his Father and the Spirit on an equal level. Yet, in order to bring us salvation and life without end he ‘emptied’ himself and took the form of a slave, totally in service to us. He adopted our human condition totally and he even went lower than this by submitting to one of the most terrible forms of death, death by crucifixion. And all of this was to help us understand the extent of his Father’s love for each one of us.

And, because of this self-giving and self-emptying, the Father has raised him up, has “exalted” him so that the name of Jesus is now above every other name, and before which every knee should bend in deep adoration and confess Jesus as Lord.

Hence, the Cross is a much esteemed symbol for Christians everywhere and a way by which they express their faith. We place a cross in our churches and homes, in the classrooms of our schools and in other Christian institutions. Many wear a cross as part of their dress.

We remember Jesus’ words to his followers, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt 10:38,39). As we often sing after the Consecration during the Eucharist: “Dying, you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life.”

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