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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Thursday, September 14, 2023

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for Thursday, 23rd Week of Ordinary Time:

(Feast day reflection; daily reflection follows) Lectionary no. 638 (Nm 21: 4b-9 or Phil 2: 6- 11; Ps 78: 1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38; Jn 3: 13-17)

Commenting on Numbers 21:4b-9, the Jerome Biblical Commentary says, “The cult of the snake was widely practiced in Canaan, probably in connection with fertility rites.” This would make it a symbol of life and healing, and explain why the caduceus —a winged staff entwined with two serpents, the symbol of Hermes or Mercury... became the symbol of the U.S. Army Medical Corps and various other medical organizations (Encarta World English Dictionary). Much later, because the Jews misunderstood its significance, the reformer Hezekiah “broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it” (1Kings 18:4).

In John 3:13-17 Jesus revealed that the serpent lifted up in the desert was a symbol of himself lifted up on the cross, and the commentators agree that John consciously meant “lifted up” to refer both to Jesus’ crucifixion and to his resurrection and exaltation in heaven. So what does the story mean to us?

While traveling through the desert, the People “became impatient on the way” and “spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’”

We can relate to that. During our pilgrimage on earth, we get “impatient” too because of the hardships and sufferings we endure; or just because God doesn’t seem to be establishing his Kingdom as fast as we think he could and should. This is why we accept it when our nation turns to violence. We can’t believe that the only way to save our lives on this earth is to be willing to lose them. Rather than “endure evil with love,” which is the way of the cross, we go to war against it. Like Peter, we speak against God, saying, “No way!” (Matthew 16:21-27). We do more than speak. Like Peter again, we take up the sword (John 18:10).

Understandable. But fatal.

In the desert, “the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.” Then he told Moses to make “a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” In our own day, we are unleashing our own “poisonous serpents” on each other, from handguns to the atom bomb, and people will keep dying all over the earth until they look up at the cross and accept its message.

That may take a very long time.

Meanwhile, as “faithful stewards” of the truth confided to us, we have to preach and teach and work for nonviolence until it becomes obvious to everyone that Jesus’ defeat and death on the cross was in fact his triumph and our only authentic source of life.

Paul urges, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” He continues, Philippians 2:6-11,

“He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” But we know that, by being “lifted up” on the cross he was lifted up in glory: “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Action: Be a steward of the mystery of the cross. Die in love rather than kill.

Daily Reflection

The Responsorial (Psalm 150) is a response to what we experience in Communion: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”

Colossians 3:12-17 describes about as well as anything the thoughts, feelings, and desires we experience if we just “rest in the Lord” after receiving Communion.

“You are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved...” Feel that. Doesn’t it follow that we want to “clothe ourselves” in “kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”?

Aren’t we, at this moment, moved to “Bear with one another and... forgive as the Lord has forgiven you”?

“Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts.” Haven’t we just expressed our desire for that in the Sign of Peace? And our faith that Jesus will, at his coming, overcome all that divides us, no matter how impossible that seems, and bring us all into harmony in the “peace and unity” of his kingdom? We are experiencing it in preview already, having all shared, “as members of the one body,” in the “one Bread” that is present within us all.

Isn’t this the literal realization of Jesus’ prayer:

I ask... that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.... I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one (John 17:20-23).

Is this not enough to make us “dedicate ourselves to thankfulness”? And with “gratitude in our hearts” express it at Mass by “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God”?

Doesn’t what we experience in Communion inspire us to “let the word of Christ, in all its richness, dwell in us”? We have just received the “bread of life” in two ways: from the “one table of the word of God and the Body of Christ.” As we adore the gift of Christ within us we are conscious that “the Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord.” Communion makes us hunger for his word, and his word makes us hunger for Communion (Vatican II on Revelation—Dei Verbum—no. 21).

“Over all these virtues, put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect.” Eucharist is “the sacrament of Love.” Because we have “become Christ,” it follows that “whatever we do, whether in speech or in action,” we will let him express his love through us, “doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In Luke 6:27-38 Jesus spells out love:

Do good to those who hate you.

· Give to everyone who begs from you.

· If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

· Do to others as you would have them do to you.

· Love your enemies.

· Lend, expecting nothing in return.

· Be merciful as your Father is merciful.

· Do not judge.

· Do not condemn.

· Forgive.

· Give....


But is it more farfetched than receiving God himself in Communion?

Action: Absorb the mystery of Communion. Live the mystery of Communion.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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