Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Unusually for me, the verse in the headline does not come from any of today’s readings. It is actually from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (2:2).
Not that the scripture passages proclaimed today are not appropriate or thought provoking. The Old Testament reading tells of the complaining Israelites being attacked by snakes only to realize the error of their ways, beseeching Moses to intercede for them, and then being healed by a serpent on a pole.
The second reading has Paul telling the Philippians that Jesus “humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” We are to follow the Messiah’s lead: humility leads to obedience that should be our hallmark until our last breath.
Finally, John ties Jesus upcoming sacrifice to the story we heard in the first reading by giving us Jesus’ words to Nicodemus:
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.
Hearing this, we should immediately think of Paul’s words in another letter to the Corinthians:
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin. (5:21)
The serpent, who from early on was the symbol of iniquity, prefigured Jesus in the desert. A serpent on a pole healed the recalcitrant Chosen People. Jesus, taking on the sins of all persons of all time, became like that reptile in order to heal all of us who look on and believe.
Now, getting back to the quote that came to my mind on this day. Whenever, I hear about someone deriding Catholics for “keeping Christ on the cross” I think of the words from Paul in the headline. If he is preaching Christ crucified should we ever stop doing so? This sacrifice on Calvary happened at a point in time, to be sure. But its effects are applied to all time — to every human being from Adam to the last person to be conceived before the end of the world. It seems to me a laudable and worthy exercise to look upon a crucifix, to consider what horror (my) sin is, and what (my) sin contributes to the sufferings of this innocent man. By choosing to defy God through sin (“boldly” or not) we add to the misery of the good Lord. He felt the pain of sins committed not those avoided. So we still have the choice every single day to relieve Jesus or add to His pain.
So let us look on a crucifix, a painting, or a film (the more true to life, the better) and re-consider our behavior all the while being filled with thanksgiving for so great a gift.
El Greco (1596-1600)
Oil on canvas, 312 x 169 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid