Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Readings Nm 21:4b-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17


    In our first reading tonight from the Hebrew Scriptures, we hear one
of the many tales of our ancestors.  In a
nut shell, the people, unhappy with their circumstances,  complained, then some died, and then the
people asked Moses to ask God to take the serpents away; and God heeded Mose’s
request and those who had been bitten, who surely would have died, were
healed.  Lots of people focus on is how
when the people turned from God, God punished them.  But, we are to look beyond the literal –
after all, that’s just how the people interpreted what was happening.  It’s not necessarily a cause and effect
relationship here.  What seems true to
me, about human nature, anyway, is that complaining doesn’t do anyone a whole
lot of good. 

    So, the people didn’t like the food, they didn’t like where
they were, they didn’t like the people they were with or their leader… (Sound
familiar?)  So they complained and moaned
and threw hissy fits.  And then they
died.  Complaining is a death-dealing

    When people ask me how I’m doing… I often say, “I can’t
complain”, which I quickly follow up with “but I do, anyway.”  Complain that is.  I complain that the leaders of my country are
driving it into the ground; I complain that we aren’t listening to each other;
that our political process is so messed up; that we aren’t doing enough to help
others; that there’s nothing on TV. 

I complain that I don’t have enough time to do all the things I want or
feel like I need to do…. You get the picture. 
You may even be living in a similar picture….Well without the banana in
the cereal box! (I hope).

    But, the truth is there is nothing in my life worthy of
complaint.  I’m fed, sheltered, have
friends, good health, a fantastic job, sisters who love and support me,
transportation, enough yarn to knit a dozen sweaters and blankets, not to
mention clean water, electricity, and indoor plumbing.     Complaining is death-dealing; because while
I’m focused on what I don’t have; what I “should” have, I am not celebrating
what I do have and I miss the gifts that are right in front of me. 

    Also, I’m not working to make life better for those around
me who have way less than I do.  One
would think Jesus would be really disappointed in me; disappointed that I don’t
always “get it”, that I sometimes refuse to “get it”. But the scripture says
something quite different. . .

    God didn’t send Jesus in to the world to condemn it.  Did you hear that?  When I first read the Gospel in preparation
for tonight, I saw that it contained John 3:16… surely the most street-signed passage
in the Christian scriptures.  But that
line (that God loved us so much he sent Jesus) doesn’t really make sense to me
without the next line.  That Jesus came
into the world to save it, not to condemn it. 
So if God didn’t condemn the world; and we see that repeated over and
over in scripture, but loved it. . . . then how is it that we, in our limited,
human selves, think we have the right to condemn and, indeed, complain about it?  Especially when most of what we complain
about is of our own creation in one way or another.

    There’s this song that keeps going through my mind.  It’s a new tune by Steve Earle, sung by Joan
Baez.  The song is called God is God, and
the point of the song, like the point of our readings tonight is that God ain’t
me; God ain’t us; and God is God. 

    When the Israelites were complaining that they weren’t being
treated right, they were claiming to know better than God.  Not so much. 
 When we in any of our groups, be
they personal, religious, political, claim to know God’s will for others, we are
saying we know the mind of God…. But even Jesus, we are told in the Scriptures
tonight, didn’t regard equality with God something to be grasped at.  Jesus, who actually was God, didn’t claim any
special treatment or special rights.  He
went about making the lives of others better. 

    I am not God; we are not God; God is not us, and thank
Goodness God is God.

Our ancestors, I noticed, asked God to remove the serpents
from their midst.  But, did you note that
that’s not what God did?  God used the
serpents, in fact, an image of the serpent, to heal them.  They looked on that which was death dealing,
and they were healed.

    In the fall of 2001, my mom was diagnosed with metastatic
breast cancer.  Over the next six years,
I often prayed for a cure.  Mom underwent
surgery, chemo and radiation; the common lot of cancer patients and she rarely
complained.  I don’t know if my Mom ever
prayed to have the cancer removed.  I do
know she wanted to and chose to live every single day she had. 

    I believe that cancer is a horrible thing and it is
death-dealing.  I also know that
death-dealing thing gave us a great opportunity to spend really precious time
with each other.  My sisters and
brothers, my mom and each of us and her friends, we found healing in the time
we had to be together. 

I wanted to complain, okay, I did complain, to God about
Mom’s illness.  But I also thanked God
for helping us to see past the illness to each other – to the opportunity to be
there for one another – I continue to thank God for the healing of
relationships and the healing of our hearts which happened through the
experience we walked together. 

    I was
blessed with the opportunity to live with and care for her during the last year
she lived here on earth.  My mom was not
cured of cancer, but living with it, living through it, and seeing beyond it
healed her, healed the relationships with some of her children who were
distant; healed her relationship with God and also, in real ways, healed each
of us who loved and walked with her.  She
died 18 months ago, but the healing remains.

    Our ancestors were told to look at the death-dealing serpent
and be healed; My family looked at and through Mom’s death-dealing cancer and
we were healed.  We, Christians,
Catholics, believers, we look to the Cross, a death-dealing instrument, and we,
too, are healed.  We are not
condemned.  We are saved, we are
healed.  And the healing continues.

    Tonight we are going to celebrate the healing power of our
faith in a special way.  We are going to anoint
one of our members as she seeks ongoing healing.  While we won’t be putting a serpent on a
stick, we will, like our ancestors before us, like communities who believe in a
healing God do, we will pray.  And we
will have faith that healing, in whatever form God chooses will emerge.  Not just for Cynthia; but for each of
us.  Will we have the eyes and the heart
to recognize it?

Sr. Christine Wilcox, OP
Dominican University Chapel
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross