The Cross is good news

Al Cariño
Sept 14, 2003
Triumph of the Cross
Reproduced with Permission

The Church celebrates the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross to remind us that we are not only to face the scandal of the Cross but also to accept and embrace it as an integral part of our life as Christians.

St. Paul speaks of the cross as a "stumbling block" to the Jews and "foolishness" to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:18,23). It was a stumbling block for the Jews because crucifixion represented both divine curse and utter humiliation specially since it was imposed by the hated Roman conquerors. It was foolishness to the Gentiles because crucifixion was a severe penalty reserved only for rebels, violent criminals and robbers. Nonetheless, according to St. Paul, "To us who are being saved, it (the cross) is the power of God."

The gospel tells us that a certain Nicodemus visited Jesus in the evening (Jn. 3: 13-17). He did this because being a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, he did not want to be seen with Jesus. In the course of their conversation Jesus said, "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." In talking about His being lifted up, Jesus was making reference to Moses' lifting up of the bronze serpent in the desert. Moses was then leading the Israelites out of the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. But on the way they complained against God and Moses, saying, "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food (the manna)!" (Num. 21: 5)

In anger, God-sent venomous snakes which bit the people and many died. When they repented of their sins God told Moses to make a bronze image of a snake and lift it up on a pole. Thereafter, anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the image was saved from death.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus was familiar with Jesus' reference to the snake being lifted up. But he was unable to see the connection between what Jesus meant when He said that "the Son of Man be lifted up" and the effect on those who looked at the bronze serpent. Neither did His disciples despite the fact that they heard Jesus' prediction of His sufferings and death. Neither did the two disciples from Emmaus who, after telling the "stranger" Jesus what transpired in Jerusalem in the last few days, said, "We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel" (Lk. 24:21). Jesus had to explain to them what Scriptures said concerning Him vis-a-vis the events that took place in Jerusalem.

For believers, the Cross is the irrefutable proof of God's wisdom and love. As Jesus said, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. "The "lifting up" of Jesus on the Cross and His raising Him from the dead was God's way of effecting our salvation. Because of this, the Cross ceased to be a sign of shame and defeat for His followers. Rather, it is a badge of victory and salvation for them. Thus, to substitute the Cross with something else or to water down its demands is to deny the supreme gift of God to us - His own Son's life.

This brings us to our being Christians. As Christians we are not only to believe in God but also in the testimony of Jesus regarding God and His plan of salvation for us which included His Son Jesus' dying on the cross in our behalf. This means that we have to carry our own cross too and help others bear theirs. And it is only after we have followed Jesus thus that we, too, will rise from the dead, that we will be "lifted up".

Moreover, as Christians we are not only to pray but also to help those who bear heavy crosses so that they will triumph over or despite them: those who have nothing - no clothes, no food, no homes; those who are sick, bitter or overwhelmed by sadness in their heart; those who are discouraged and tired; those who are discriminated against, under suspicion, persecuted. In short, we are to place ourselves in the service of people in need in the same way that Jesus did.

The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross reminds me of Mother Teresa of Calcutta whose cause for beatification is progressing rapidly despite the fact that she died only in 1997. Mother Teresa spent her life in the loving service of the "unwanted, unloved and uncared for" by doing all she could to ease their sufferings, their heavy crosses. She did all this because she was fully aware that it was especially for such people that Jesus said, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son."

Mother Teresa had shown us how to make the Cross triumph not only in her own life but also in our day and age. Let her be our model.