“Love does not consist of feeling great things but in having great detachment, and in suffering for the beloved God.” ~ St. John of the Cross
It’s interesting to note the vastly different response to the cross between the Israelites in today’s First Reading (Numbers 21:4-9) and Jesus, as expressed by Paul to the people of Philippa in today’s 2nd Reading (Philippians 2:6-11).
Whereas the Israelites were impatient, bitter, grumbling and ungrateful, the latter reaction particularly surprising in light of the bigger picture, Jesus courageously and unflinchingly embraced his cross. As Paul goes on to explain, Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2:8). In doing so, Paul concludes, God “greatly exalted him.”
The very purpose of the cross is discussed in today’s Gospel (John 3:13-17) wherein John explains that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” It was the ultimate act of sacrificial love carried out by both the Father and the Son, carried out in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered (Galatians 6:14).
How peculiar this Feast Day would have sounded to someone living during Jesus’ time. The exaltation, or ‘triumph,’ of the cross? It would have been analogous to someone speaking today of the exaltation of the electric chair or the triumph of the lethal injection needle. But therein lies the paradox of Jesus’ mission in a nutshell. In one loving act, dying on the cross for the sins of all mankind, eternal victory is secured. When Peter rebukes Jesus on the eve of his Passion after Jesus foreshadows his own Crucifixion, Jesus’ response, “Get behind me Satan!” captures the vital urgency of the cross. Satan did not want Jesus to die on the cross and thus seal his miserable fate and the fate of all who bask in sin, evil and disbelief. Jesus of course knew this, thus he placed Peter, albeit temporarily, in the same category as he who sought to disrupt God’s divine plan, Lucifer himself. You’re not onboard with the divine plan? Get out of the way.
No cross, no resurrection. No cross, no crown.
The cross is the ultimate symbol of God’s love for us. Yet it is far more than merely a symbol. It is a lesson in obedience, for Jesus “became obedient to death...even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
Spend a few moments each day at the foot of the cross. It is there where Jesus will fill you with the divine graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which will allow you to carry your crosses, compete well for the faith, and indeed finish the race that leads to eternal salvation with he whose mercy endures forever.
“O God, who willed that your Only Begotten Son should undergo the Cross to save the human race, grant, we pray, that we who have known this mystery on earth, may merit the grace of his redemption in heaven” ~ Amen