With the Scripture texts assigned, this feast proclaims that the mystery of the defeat of death is by submission to its power in confidence that God’s greater power will defeat the very finality of death itself – because God’s power simply destroys sin. It is the mystery that we consider when we think of the power of love to overcome hatred, of hope to overcome despair.
The first reading from Numbers tells of one of the times when the people were being formed by the long sojourn in the desert after leaving the slavery of Egypt. The people are “bitten” by a longing for the security of slavery, the reality familiar to them. The Israelites were “bitten” by the serpents of fear, laziness, and a willful refusal to mature. When they recognized that their complaining had allowed death into their camp, they pleaded with Moses and God to help them. God instructs Moses to place their sins (in the form of a serpent) on a pole and “lift it up in front of them.” To enable them to see what is destroying them.
In the Letter to the Philippians, we read that Jesus, “who did not know sin” chose to take on the sin of all humans (to even “become sin itself”) and is lifted up in front of us so that we can see the truth of sin in our own lives and in the world. Like the Israelites of old, the crucifixion of Jesus, forces us to look at our own sins, the sins of violence to which we contribute by taking more than our share of the earth’s goods, of demeaning other humans for any reason whatsoever, of despair and infidelity, until finally, sin is placed, with all the horror of unintended or intended consequences, in front of our consciousness and we see the Truth.
If we desire life, if we desire the poisoned bite of the serpent to be healed, then we must take on the pattern of Christ, “Who though he was in the form of God did not deem equality with God something to be grasped.”
The Exaltation of the Cross invites us to desire God’s Will above our own. It challenges us to become what we most desire but cannot accomplish for ourselves – to be utterly free to love and to be loved perfectly. Only in God is such a gift possible. We were made for this, we long for it, but we allow ourselves to be satisfied with life with a snake in our bosom . . . the enemy of our flourishing who will engage any lie that we will listen to in order to prevent us from knowing the love of God perfectly revealed in Jesus’ death on a cross that forms the doorway between life and death.
The doorway to eternal life lies before us in the Eucharist. All we need do is turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Many of the ideas for this homily came from a reflection by Eileen Burke-Sullivan.)
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator