Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

(Numbers 21:4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)

Very shortly mass in most English-speaking countries will be celebrated with a new translation from the Latin. Catholics will notice the difference from the very beginning of the service as they answer the priest’s greeting with the words, “And with your spirit.” During the consecration of the bread and wine, they will hear a more jarring change. Rather than say that Jesus’ blood was shed “for all” as he has done for forty years ago, the priest will say that it was shed “for many.” The Holy See has assured that the Church believes that Jesus died for all and not just a chosen many. The issue is being faithful to the words that are found in the gospel text which uses “many” although in an open-ended sense which includes everyone.

Today’s gospel leaves no doubt that Jesus did, in fact, die for all. The two verses that conclude the reading are said to be the loveliest in all Scripture. They end with the words, “For God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The matter at hand has practical implications. If Jesus did not die for all, then people might try to name those who are excluded. Some will say the Chinese are without salvation and begin to discount them as an honorable people. Others would make a similar assessment of Africans or Muslims. This kind of thinking, of course, is racist. Jesus died for all because God loves all as His creation. We too strive to love all because we love God first and foremost.