Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
A serpentine cross sculpture on the summit of Mount Nebo like the cross mentioned in Numbers 21: 4-9
Reading 1 NM 21:4B-9
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.
Responsorial Psalm PS 78:1BC-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Hearken, my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable,
I will utter mysteries from of old.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
While he slew them they sought him
and inquired after God again,
Remembering that God was their rock
and the Most High God, their redeemer.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues,
Though their hearts were not steadfast toward him,
nor were they faithful to his covenant.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But he, being merciful, forgave their sin
and destroyed them not;
Often he turned back his anger
and let none of his wrath be roused.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
Reading 2 PHIL 2:6-11
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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.
Barnes’ notes on the Bible says this:
But made himself of no reputation – This translation by no means conveys the sense of the original According to this it would seem that he consented to be without distinction or honor among people; or that he was willing to be despised or disregarded. The Greek is ἑαυτον ἐκένωσεν heauton ekenōsen. The word κενόω kenoō means literally, to empty, “to make empty, to make vain or void.” It is rendered: “made void” in Romans 4:14; “made of none effect,” 1 Corinthians 1:17; “make void,” 1 Corinthians 9:15; “should be vain,” 2 Corinthians 9:3. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, except in the passage before us. The essential idea is that of bringing to emptiness, vanity, or nothingness; and, hence, it is applied to a case where one lays aside his rank and dignity, and becomes in respect to that as nothing; that is, he assumes a more humble rank and station. In regard to its meaning here, we may remark:
(1) that it cannot mean that he literally divested himself of his divine nature and perfections, for that was impossible. He could not cease to be omnipotent, and omnipresent, and most holy, and true, and good.
(2) it is conceivable that he might have laid aside, for a time, the symbols or the manifestation of his glory, or that the outward expressions of his majesty in heaven might have been withdrawn. It is conceivable for a divine being to intermit the exercise of his almighty power, since it cannot be supposed that God is always exerting his power to the utmost. And in like manner there might be for a time a laying aside or intermitting of these manifestations or symbols, which were expressive of the divine glory and perfections. Yet,
(3) this supposes no change in the divine nature, or in the essential glory of the divine perfections. When the sun is obscured by a cloud, or in an eclipse, there is no real change of its glory, nor are his beams extinguished, nor is the sun himself in any measure changed. His luster is only for a time obscured. So it might have been in regard to the manifestation of the glory of the Son of God. Of course there is much in regard to this which is obscure, but the language of the apostle undoubtedly implies more than that he took an humble place, or that he demeaned himself in an humble manner. In regard to the actual change respecting his manifestations in heaven, or the withdrawing of the symbols of his glory there, the Scriptures are nearly silent, and conjecture is useless – perhaps improper. The language before us fairly implies that he laid aside that which was expressive of his being divine – that glory which is involved in the phrase “being in the form of God” – and took upon himself another form and manifestation in the condition of a servant.
In short, per the Barnes’ notes, He did not lay aside any of His power or Godly characteristics, He merely did not exercise them.
First Thoughts From Peace and Freedom
Many spiritual people suggest we focus upon not our own “goodness, knowledge or other kinds of self belief in greatness” because any greatness in us comes from God! Our job is to “pour ourselves out” in service to others. If we fail to “pour ourselves out we may never attain what God wanted most for us — because we fail to find humility and run amok with our prideful ego.
This is a cornerstone teaching of many spiritual groups including the Catholic Church and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Above: “An Introduction to the Devout Life,” By St. Francis de Sales — We are all devoted to some things — but are they the rights things? Are out devotions good for our souls and pleasing to God?
See also “Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence” by J. P. de Caussade (Below)
Commentary on Numbers 21:4b-9 or Philippians 2:6-11; Ps 77; John 3:13-17 From Living Space
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, too, is 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.”
Today, on this Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, we are exhorted to follow Jesus in carrying the cross so that we too can triumph over evil, suffering and sin. He told His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” How, then, should we carry our crosses? We must carry them in such a way that it becomes life-giving to us and to others. We must learn from our sufferings so that we can feel with those who are suffering. Through suffering, we learn compassion and empathy for our brothers and sisters because we are one of them.
Indeed, grumbling and complaining all the time is not going to help to resolve the situation. Just lamenting will not make us better but only bitter. This, unfortunately, is the attitude most people take when they undergo suffering in life. They start blaming others for the situation or mess they are in. They look for scapegoats. They blame their loved ones, their colleagues, their bosses. They cannot forgive and let go of the past. They hold on to their resentments. Finally, they take it out on God, accusing Him of being indifferent to their sufferings and for not caring about them. God becomes the greatest enemy of man instead of His ally. He is made responsible for everything.
To bring this to the consciousness of the Israelites, the Lord permitted them to be bitten by the serpents in the desert. We too are not much different from the Israelites. We come to realization only when we find ourselves hurting even more. We fall into depression and get involved in things we should not be doing or make wrong decisions. What we are angry at and those whom we blame only cause us to suffer more. That is why the only way to get out of our situation is to face our problems squarely in life and not run away from them or find scapegoats to cover up our weaknesses and fears.
Facing our demons is the way to change our situation and not allow circumstances to overwhelm us. We can make the best use of what we have and turn them into antidotes for our healing. This is what the Lord did for Moses and His people. He told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live. So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.” Truly, facing our difficulties is the way to overcome our problems. Consequently, we are called to contemplate on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross is our victory over sin and death and suffering.
The first lesson we can learn from the Cross is that we must never suffer alone. Jesus did not carry the cross alone either. He went through the passion with His Father. Whilst it was the Son who suffered the agony in the Garden and the torture at the crucifixion, the Father had to suffer the pain of seeing His beloved Son suffering for us and on His behalf. For God to give up His only Son and to see His beloved being humiliated, tortured and crucified must have been the most painful thing for the Father. Which one of us can see our own children or our loved ones suffer? Knowing how much they suffer because of their jobs, studies, relationships or illnesses cause us to feel much with them. Most of all, there are times when we feel so helpless because we cannot offer any real assistance. We can only stand by and watch them suffer in silence. So the Father suffered tremendously when His Son was rejected by man and accused to be a fraud and of a crime He did not commit. Most of all, it must have broken the Father’s heart to see His Son abandoned by His disciples to suffer and die alone, except for His mother and a couple of relatives who stood by Him till the end.
Of course, Jesus also suffered when He assumed our humanity and carried the cross for our sake. In Jesus, no one can say that God does not understand us or feel our sufferings. Jesus had stripped Himself of His riches and became poor for our sake. He had gone through all that we have gone through in life and much more. How many of us are so rich that we have become poor for others? How many understand what it means to be a slave of someone? How many of us have been mocked, humiliated, stripped in public and exhibited naked on the cross? How many of us have been tortured and nailed to a cross? Indeed, none of us can say that we have suffered as much as Jesus.
Our first reflection therefore is that because God Himself suffered, we are not alone in our suffering. Indeed, the answer to the mystery of evil and suffering is the suffering of God within Himself. Whilst we have no perfect answer to the mystery of evil, we know that the consequences of sin are not only that we are made to suffer, but we have caused God to suffer even more because of His infinite love for us. That God suffers not just with us but for us is sufficient for us to carry our cross cheerfully, believing that something greater for our good will come out of it. In our suffering, if we ever think we are alone or that God is indifferent to our pains, then we can be sure it is not the case.
But this insight also reminds us that we should never allow others to suffer alone, especially those who are lonely, depressed, dejected and have lost hope in life. Indeed, people who commit suicide do so because they felt that they were all alone in their depression. We need to be with those elderly who are alone at home or those who are sick, especially those who are going through terminal illness. We must never repeat the same mistake of the disciples who abandoned the Lord in His time of need. They could not keep awake with Him in prayer and they ran away when the soldiers came. Only the mother of Jesus and two other women and the beloved disciple stood at the cross of Jesus to give Him the final support. Although we might not be able to do much for those who are suffering, being with them is perhaps the greatest comfort we can give to them, especially when they are lonely or hurting or dying. By journeying with each other in faith, we grow stronger in our faith and love.
The second lesson we can draw from the Cross is that we do not suffer for nothing. We must suffer for love. Why did the Father allow His Son to go through such a journey? It was because of His love for us. He sees humanity suffering because of sin, especially pride and selfishness. Sin has always been the cause of division and alienation among men. When everyone thinks of himself before others, selfishness breeds competition, injustices, wars, quarrels and alienation. The Father sent us His Son out of love for us all so that no one will doubt His love for us. So, too, the Son did likewise. He suffered for us to reveal His Father’s love and mercy for us. He died for our sins and for our salvation. Through the cross, He revealed the depth and consequences of our sins and the immensity of God’s forgiveness and love.
So if we are to suffer at all, the question of “why do we have to suffer” is not as important as to suffer for love and for the good of others. When we suffer in love for our enemies and for our loved ones, that suffering becomes an antidote to heal others of their pains and their sinfulness. Rather than cause more harm to them, we must use our sufferings, often inflicted by our fellowmen or simply because of natural causes like illnesses, to heal others. Every suffering and pain that is carried positively for a cause and for love will not destroy us but build us up in the capacity to love more. When we triumph over sin and selfishness we too will share in Jesus’ glory.
Finally, from the cross, we learn that suffering with others and for others teach us compassion and mercy. Those have gone through such pains in our lives will learn to empathize with those who are suffering. The greatest sinners make the greatest saints. The best drug addict counsellor is one who has been a drug addict before, as he understands their struggles more than anyone else. When we have gone through bereavement ourselves or an accident or survive a terminal illness, we are best placed to help those who are going through similar crises.
For this reason, we can be confident that Jesus who is at the throne of mercy will always hear our prayers. He who has suffered much will be able to empathize and feel much for us who are suffering. He knows the pain of illness, the fear of death, anxiety for our loved ones, because He had to leave His mother behind when He was on the cross. He knows what it means to be misunderstood by people you care for and be condemned unjustly. He knows what it means to be betrayed by one’s closest friends. He knows what it takes to suffer thirst, physical pain and torture. He knows what it means to be separated from those whom He loves dearly.
Let the words of the responsorial psalm give us strength to carry on. “Never forget the deeds of the Lord.” So when we contemplate on the mercy of our Heavenly Father and the love of our Lord for us, we too can find strength to carry that cross. Most of all, we must encourage each other and help others to carry their crosses so that they will be strong to endure to the end. So long as someone stands by us, even if we are dying, we will find the strength and perseverance to go through to the end and find peace and joy and meaning whilst suffering with our Lord for ourselves, our purification and the salvation of the world.
“The Israelites saved their lives by looking upon the uplifted serpent. That look implied faith. They lived because they believed God’s word, and trusted in the means provided for their recovery. So the sinner may look to Christ, and live. He receives pardon through faith in the atoning sacrifice. Unlike the inert and lifeless symbol, Christ has power and virtue in Himself to heal the repenting sinner.
“While the sinner cannot save himself, he still has something to do to secure salvation. ‘Him that cometh to me,’ says Christ, ‘I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6:37). But we must come to Him; and when we repent ofour sins, we must believe that He accepts and pardons us. Faith is the gift of God , but the power to exercise it is ours. Faith is the hand by which the soul takes hold upon the divine offers of grace and mercy….
“Jesus had pledged His word; He will save all who come unto Him. Though millions who need it to be healed will reject His offered mercy, not one who trusts in His merits will be left to perish.” – God’s Amazing Grace, p 315, E. G. White.
Tags: An Introduction to the Devout Life By St. Francis de Sales, And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so must the Son of Man be lifted up, becoming obedient to death, but that the world might be saved through him, Christ’s teaching on self-giving and self-emptying, coming in human likeness, complaining, eternal life, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, he emptied himself, humility, Jn 3:13-17, John 3:13-17, Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, Nm 21:4b-9, obedient even to death on the cross, Phil 2:6-11, pour ourselves out, Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 78, Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence by J. P. de Caussade, September 14 2016, serpents, service to others, taking the form of a slave, We are disgusted with this wretched food, We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you