Triumph of the Cross- Reflection for Mass of September 14, 2009

14 Sep

Monday, September 14, 2009
Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38; John 3:13-17

As a small child I often wondered why Jesus had to die so hideously, crucified between two criminals. Each time I asked that question, the response from relatives was that the death of Christ was necessary: “It had to happen that way.”

“But why?,” I would protest.

No answer was satisfactory for me, even the minimal though accurate clarification I received if I pressed for it for long enough: “Jesus had to die that way to save us.”

At about the same time I had a favourite story on cassette tape called “The Story of Little Tree,” who sprouts just before Jesus’ birth and, in the story, witnesses the birth, earthly life and ministry, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord. His companion, Big Tree, teaches him from his “Small Beginning” all about friendship and love- being “Two of a Kind” despite their disparity in size and “Wisdom.” Then a storm comes, Little Tree is injured, and Big Tree is no more. Little Tree despairs until a kind man- Jesus- sits under his branches and begins to teach the children. Then the unthinkable happens: men cut a branch from Little Tree that becomes the Cross upon which Christ is crucified. Little Tree’s question, through tears, is close to my question as a child: “What could He have done to deserve this?” (1)

The contrast between the Cross upon which Jesus “must be… lifted up,” (2) as in John’s Gospel, and the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses to cure the Israelites who had been bitten by poisonous snakes in today’s first reading (3), shows that Christ’s death had nothing to do with what He deserved. Instead, we deserve the condemnation that Jesus freely took upon Himself “in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (4) Today’s Responsorial Psalm details the disobedience of Israel toward God, “yet He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them.” (5)

Moses had merely ‘placed’ the serpent on a pole and prayed for the people he led out of Egypt, that they might be spared from snakebite that God had brought upon them for their complaining at Mount Hor. St. John’s Greek usage versus the Septuagint text of the Book of Numbers is fascinating; Jesus is actually glorified- hypsothenai– by His death. (6) The Cross is then indeed a triumph, as we celebrate today. This concept must have been unsettling for Nicodemus, a secret disciple of the Lord whom Jesus counselled after dark and who later helped to receive Jesus’ body from the Cross. (7)

We can only speak of the Triumph of the Cross if the reason given for the humiliation of the Cross in the Gospel of John is also true: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (8) God wills us to life everlasting, so the Cross is our atonement and also our victory.

Therefore we are able to pray to the One who, “though [He] was in the form of God…became obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.” (9) St. Paul rightly urges the Philippians and us to prayerfully celebrate the triumphant love of God. May “every knee… bend, in heaven on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue… confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (10) Amen.



One Response to “Triumph of the Cross- Reflection for Mass of September 14, 2009”

  1. canadiancatholicblog September 11, 2009 at 8:50 pm #


    (1) cf. “The Story of Little Tree”, Highland, California: Alpha Omega Productions, 1992. In quotation marks, except for the last sentence before the endnote mark, which is a direct quotation from the audio tape, are the titles of songs in the story that I refer to in this article.
    (2) John 3:14
    (3) cf. Numbers 21:6, 8-9
    (4) John 3:17
    (5) Psalm 78:38
    (6) cf. John 3:14, where the two Greek words are contrasted in reference to Moses’ lifting of the serpent on the pole, and Jesus’ glorification on the Cross, in The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, tr. Alfred Marshall. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, 366.
    (7) cf. John 3:2, 19:39
    (8) John 3:16
    (9) Philippians 2:6, 8
    (10) Philippians 2:10-11


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