Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Reading 1 Nm 21:4b-9; Reading 2 Phil 2:6-11; Gospel Jn 3:13-17
The first reading from the Book of Numbers narrates the episode of the bronze serpent being raised up for all who were bitten by the poisonous serpents, to look at it and live. Thus they were instantly delivered from imminent death. It was actually a foreshadow of what was about to happen many centuries later.
If you were to ask me as to what brought about the cure, it was not the bronze serpent. It was the look they cast on the bronze serpent. It was not a look of contempt or curiosity, of doubt or delusion, but of faith and remorse.
Allow me to make myself clear. Just look at today’s gospel. Forget the bronze serpent. This time it was the Son of God himself who was raised up – naked and nailed, bruised and bloodied. Imagine the Universal Mediator – God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, Begotten not made – hanging on the cross helplessly, unable to bring about instantaneous deliverance to those looked at him. Why? After all he was God, right? Of course he was. But were the people disposed to avail their salvation?
Did they look at the cross? Oh yes, they did. The Pharisees did look at him, but with a look of anger and dissent, the Roman soldiers looked at him with contempt; to the public he was just a spectacle not to be missed, they looked at him out of curiosity; his disciples, if there were any, looked at him with guilt!
Was there anybody who looked at him with the eyes of faith? Was there anyone who experienced salvation as a consequence, then and there? I am sure of at least two people. The criminal on his right and the centurion.
The criminal saw Jesus as he truly is. The bandit saw in Jesus, a man (Lk. 23: 41) who is God, yet did not equal himself with God (Phil. 2: 6) who gave up all he had (Phil. 2: 7) – even his own kingdom (Lk. 23: 42) which is not of this world (paradise Lk. 23: 43).
Next was the centurion at the foot of the cross. Having encountered God, he could not help but confess publicly that Jesus indeed was Son of God (Mk. 15: 39). He saw in Jesus – God – who took the form of a slave, of human form, who was obedient even to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2: 8). If the penitent thief stole paradise by his look, the centurion reclaimed his lost sonship by his look that compelled him to pronounce the baptismal formula of confession. By exalting the one on the cross, they won their salvation.
What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for the second coming of the Messiah in all his glory or for the Messiah to be crucified for the second time?
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that he might win over all of his lost sons and daughters – if only they were to look at his Son – at least once… with the eyes of faith.