Sept. 14: Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
Scripture: Lectionary # 638: Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 78:1-2, 34-35, 36-37.38.
Philippians 2:6-11, John 3:13-17:
Only in John’s Gospel is the Cross presented as a lifting up of Jesus
toward the heavens in a victorious and glorious way. The Incarnation gave
us Jesus who was sent in love from the Father and now he returns through
his death on the Cross. This is often seen in the Crucifixion paintings
and Crosses created by artists and sculptors. Jesus is “lifted up on high”
in order to conquer evil and reveal to all humankind the saving action of
Jesus as priest, king, and prophet. Jesus the crucified is victim yet like
the lamb of the Apocalypse the victory is his.
Our passage echoes the scene of our first reading where Moses lifts up the
bronze serpent in the desert and those who gaze upon the figure are cured!
Both Moses and Jesus are involved in a paradoxical event that is saving.
The readings complement each other and help us to understand what John is
presenting to us in the dialogue with Nicodemus who would relate well to
the image from Numbers. John would then gather us under the Cross to
witness the victorious lamb of God despite the horrific suffering of the
disciple and the mother of Jesus below the Cross. The paradox was already
presented to us in the second part of the Prologue of John 1: 14-17.
We need this theology of the Cross to complete the more somber message of
Jesus’ death and defeat as presented in Mark or the forgiving and healing
Savior in Luke or even the revered teacher of the beatitudes in Matthew who
now dies upon the Cross. In all of the Gospels the reality of the death of
Jesus is present but it is the theologian of the Evangelists who presents
it as the victory of the Christ.
The Synoptic Passion Narratives were heralded by three fold predictions
about the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, but it John alone who
on three occasions refers to these mysteries of Jesus as his “being lifted
up.” (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32).
Paul gives us one of the earliest hymns that captures the victory of Jesus
though it also presents the sufferings and death of the Lord in his humble
status as a servant (doulos) of God. God exalts him so that at the Name of
Jesus every knee must bend. This hymn is close to the theological
dimension of John when it comes to the death of Jesus on the Cross and his
exaltation in the heavens. “Each strophe of the hymn presents a different
stage in the mystery of Christ. Verse 6 is the Divine Reality. 7. The
‘emptying’ (Kenosis) of the Incarnation. 8.The final humiliation of the
cross. 10 The exaltation. 11. The worship of all creation. 12. The
confession of Jesus Christ as Lord.” (John J. Greehy, Philippians, The New
Catholic Commentary on Scripture, page1194).
Our reflection can center on the Gospel Acclamation: “We adore you, O
Christ, and we praise you, because by your cross you have redeemed the
world.” Amen. Alleluia.