John 3:13-17

Exultation of the Cross
by Rev. Jack Peterson YA

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"


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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: "No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

The universal Church grants us the opportunity to exalt the Cross of Jesus on Sunday. The readings chosen for this grand celebration invite us to ponder with renewed hearts the wisdom of God which is so beyond our understanding. Because God's ways are often not ours, His ways are regularly perceived as confounding, confusing and even ironic. I suggest that we beg the grace to fall more deeply in love with the Lord who chose to embrace the cross by taking note of the irony surrounding this mystery.

First, the second reading highlights that the whole way in which Jesus engages the world is filled with irony. One would expect God's only-begotten Son to make a grand entrance into human history, to overwhelm followers and doubters alike with political and worldly power and to demonstrate overwhelming assertiveness while carrying out His saving work. St. Paul proclaims a whole different approach: "Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave Ö He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." Jesus chose the way of self-emptying, humility and obedience. This way of engaging the world was so surprising that many of Jesus' contemporaries found it hard to believe.

Secondly, our Old Testament reading from Numbers relates the story of the seraph serpents that God sent to "punish" the people of God for losing patience in the desert, forgetting Godís previous marvels and complaining against God and Moses. Surprisingly, the people come to a realization of their hard-heartedness and repent. God then commands Moses to craft a bronze serpent, mount it on a pole, and all who look upon it will be healed from the serpent's bite.

The irony of this event is that by looking with new eyes upon the serpent, the instrument of suffering and death, the people were instead healed. This apparent contradiction is only compounded by the irony of Christ's cross. At the foot of the cross, Christians who gaze with profound love and devotion upon the great instrument of Our Saviorís torture are healed. When we look with eyes of faith upon Calvary, we are forgiven of our sins, healed of selfishness and division and restored to a whole new relationship with God, the Father. The structure used to murder the Innocent One becomes the salvation of all the guilty ones. The cross of Calvary becomes the tree of life.

A final note of irony comes from the Gospel. Human beings have wandered so far from God's plan for us that one might expect God to give up on us. We have been so stubborn, selfish and downright evil in our relationship with God and with one another that one could expect God's intervention in our world would be directed at condemning all those made in His image and likeness for the rest of eternity. But God's ways are not our ways.

God's love and goodness prevail. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Not only does God choose not to abandon us in our ugliness, but He chooses to go over the top by sending His Son to redeem us and asking Him to accomplish that work through being nailed to a tree between two criminals.

Jesus emptied Himself, humbled Himself and became obedient even to death on a cross, so that we might know the love of the Father, be saved from our sins and have eternal life. That is a bit of irony with which we can all live.

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