The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
To speak against God has repercussions both personally and communally. Remember that we speak loudest through our actions.
This is illustrated in the First Reading. The people “spoke against God” resulting in the arrival of serpents in their midst and the bite of the serpents “brought death to many in Israel”
This is a common theme throughout the scriptures but one which many, particularly the politburo, love to ridicule. I sinned and the sky didn’t fall down on top of me! Sorry, much too simple.
We should think of sin not so much in terms of breaking an abstract law but in terms of what kind of person it’s making me, the kind of person I’m becoming? More importantly, we should think of sin not just in terms of the individual but as contributing to the culture and to the kind of world we’re creating, a world moving nearer to God and its proper destiny or further from God. It’s sin that has become part of the culture that’s the most insidious and destructive, stealthily treacherous and deceitful.
The consequences of sin unfold only if we remain unrepentant over months and years, often over decades and sometimes over a century or more. It’s in this sense that we should interpret the biblical idea that the sins of the fathers (mothers) are ‘punished’ in the children.
The solution in the First Reading is to fashion a fiery serpent (the very thing that’s causing death), to raise it on a standard and all who look to it after being bitten will be cured. I know, it seems far-fetched, but stay with me.
Clearly this prefigures Christ on the Cross (in whom is crucified the very thing that causes our downfall) and he brings salvation to those who look to him.
Now what I find interesting about this is that Jesus doesn’t ridicule the basic premise of the First Reading – that sin leads to the certain death of the human community. Instead, while speaking to Nicodemus he uses the story and far from dismissing its central message he reinterprets it in light of his Cross without changing its basic message. But instead of a fiery serpent he presents himself as the one to save the global human community.
Thus he says: “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through him the world might be saved” – a vital distinction. God doesn’t need to condemn the world because the world commits itself to self-destruction by choosing sin and therefore condemns itself. God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is to save the human community.
So there we have it. There’s nothing more important than Jesus Christ and his Cross. The future well-being of the global village depends on it.
That makes the local Church kind of important too, doesn’t it? Much more important than we think!
And some people think we can remove Jesus Christ from public life!
Here’s a link to Scott Hahn’s reflection for the same readings in which he quotes extensively from Pope Benedict XVI