Friday, September 15, 2012

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

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

Beholding jeweled crosses, we may have difficulty appreciating its scandal for early Christians. People mocked the first followers of Jesus when they learned that he was nailed to a cross. We might similarly chide a teenager today for idolizing David Koresh or Timothy McVeigh. In Jesus’ day crucifixion was the basest of punishments the state imposed because it entailed the most gruesome kind of suffering. We would not even consider it an alternative form of execution today precisely because it comprises “cruel and unusual punishment.” Yet the cross is the instrument by which Christ won our salvation.

Today’s gospel curiously does not mention the cross. It merely states that those who believe in Jesus “lifted up” will be saved. In the Gospel of John Jesus is actually lifted up twice – first on the cross and then in the resurrection. Looking on either scene with faith, we find ourselves in a magnetic field dr4awn to the pole of salvation.

However, faith is more than paying lip service that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our glory dead. Faith includes a willingness to follow his ways, even at the cost of suffering. But the purpose of this feast, as of those during Holy Week, is to indicate that we do not achieve life’s goal by our own effort. Rather eternal life is a gift for which we can only say, “Thank you,” to Jesus for his death on the cross.