Gospel for Sept. 14 – Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
New Testament – 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. (Jn 3:13-17)
Old Testament – With their patience worn out by the journey, 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. (Nm 21:4B-9)
In the Old Testament passage which is referenced in the Gospel, the people of Israel give us a vivid example of human shortsightedness, selfishness and the frequent tendency to complain. Granted, the circumstances they face are difficult, but God has been leading them out – away from Pharaoh, from the backbreaking labor, from the cruelty of their taskmasters. All the Israelites can see is what is wrong, however; serious problems confront them on every side, and instead of turning to God, they give in to complaining. They finally do one very wise thing – they beg Moses to pray for them to God.
So, again, out of mercy, God hears Moses’ prayer. Notice that Moses is being attacked by the people on every side, but, instead of accusing them of their weaknesses, Moses prays, and God answers.
God instructs Moses to make an image of a fiery serpent, and to set it on a pole so all the people can see it. God tells Moses that anyone who has been bitten who looks at the bronze serpent will live! This image is the forerunner of the power of the cross on which Jesus died.
Sept. 14 is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave his own life for each of us, so that when we gaze upon the crucifix, and thank him for his willingness to die for us, and repent of our own selfishness and sin, we will know the power of the cross. We will know the grace of the power of the suffering and death of Christ that heals and sets us free for all eternity. Christ’s life and death, and our faith in his life and death on our behalf – given for each of us – represent our lifeline to eternal happiness.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to help us grow in gratitude for what God has done for us. Ask for greater faith – that we may believe that God, in Christ, goes before us to prepare a place for us for all eternity. The power of the cross will triumph in each of our lives and begin to reveal to us what God is preparing for those who love him. It is not a fairy tale! It is the Good News! Not just for today, but for forever.