Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"For God So Loved the World": Readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

This Sunday we celebrate the wonderful Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Appropriately, the readings highlight the healing and redemptive work of Christ crucified. Though much could be said about them, here are some brief thoughts, including why the lectionary has us read the strange story of the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses in the wilderness in connection with this celebration. 

Please give us your feedback in the comment box below. 

FIRST READING: Numbers 21:4b-9
With their patience worn out by the journey,the people complained against God and Moses,“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!” 
In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,which bit the people so that many of them died.Then the people came to Moses and said,“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us.”So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
The story in Numbers 21 is rich in meaning. Here let me highlight a few elements.

Plagues on Israel. The story alludes to the Exodus, which, of course, was accomplished through the Passover, the last of the ten plagues that fell upon the Egyptians. Notably, here the tables have been somewhat turned - the plagues are now falling on Israel. Here we have a warning against spiritual pride - even the chosen people, Israel, can become Egyptians. 

In the liturgy we should contemplate the times God has delivered us in our lives and yet we have proven to be unfaithful to him in response.

The fiery serpents. The term "seraph" serpents is often translated in other English Bibles, "fiery serpents" (e.g., RSV). In the original Hebrew, the reference to the idea of "fiery" or "burning" probably related to the sensation those who suffered their bites experienced.

A graven image that saves. To heal the people, God instructs Moses to make a graven image, specifically, an image of a serpent. This is the origin of the famous medical image of a serpent on a pole.

Here we see that graven images are not in and of themselves evil. Here a brief word is in order about the Ten Commandments. Of course, Jews and Protestants number the Ten Commandments differently from Catholics, identifying as the second commandment as the prohibition of graven images. Catholics, with some Anglicans and Lutherans, follow Augustine's enumeration, which lists the prohibition against idols as part of the first commandment.

By the way, the Augustinian enumeration thus sees the commandments against coveting one's neighbor's wife and coveting one's neighbors goods as two separate commandments, not as a single one as others do. This way of numbering the commandments can also be supported by looking at the list of the commandments given in Deuteronomy. There the prohibition against worshipping other gods is closely linked with idolatry (Deut. 5:7-10). Moreover, the Hebrew uses different terms for coveting ones neighbor's wife [hamad] and his goods ['awa], suggesting these two commandments could be distinguished from one another.

In short, for Catholics, statues are not evil things--worshipping them as gods is. 

Of course, one could also point out that God also commanded Moses to place two statues on the most prominent item in the sanctuary--two golden angels sit atop the ark of the covenant, the holiest vessel in Israel's worship.

In short, far from condemning graven images as of themselves evil, Numbers 21 points to what we might describe as the "sacramental" power of sacred images; the sign of the bronze serpent is an instrument of salvation in the story!

RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Psalm 78:1b-c-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38 
R. (see 7b) Do not forget the works of the Lord!
Hearken, my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable,
I will utter mysteries from of old.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
While he slew them they sought him
and inquired after God again,
Remembering that God was their rock
and the Most High God, their redeemer.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues,
Though their hearts were not steadfast toward him,
nor were they faithful to his covenant.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But he, being merciful, forgave their sin
and destroyed them not;
Often he turned back his anger
and let none of his wrath be roused.
R. Do not forget the works of the Lord!
Psalm 78 recalls God's dealings with Israel in the wilderness ("mysteries from of old"). The line in verse 34 is especially significant: "While he slew them they sought him and inquired after God again."

In other words, the psalmist seems to be relating what through the minds of the people of Israel who were killed in the wilderness after rebelling against the Lord: they "sought him".

The fathers thus read this psalm as revealing how God's wrath is actually a mercy. God smites but not out of hatred but out of love. Death was dealt by God as means of bringing his people to repentance! In other words, God punishes not because he stops loving his people but precisely because he cannot stop loving them. Here's a sampling from the fathers (including two quotes from John Chrysostom, whose feast day is Saturday):

And of those also who fell in the desert, let them hear what is related in the seventy-eighth Psalm, which bears the superscription of Asaph; for he says, “When He slew them, then they sought Him.” (Ps 78:34) He does not say that some sought Him after others had been slain, but he says that the destruction of those who were killed was of such a nature that, when put to death, they sought God.—Origen, De princ., 2.5.3 
 Those [afflictions] draw down mercy, they draw down kindness: while these on the other hand lift up even to an insane pride, and lead also to slothfulness, and dispose a man to fancy great things concerning himself; they puff up. Therefore the prophet also said, “It is good for me, Lord, that Thou hast afflicted me, that I may learn Thy statutes.” (Ps. 119:71.) When Hezekiah had received blessings and been freed from calamities, his heart was lifted up on high; when he fell sick, then was he humbled, then he became near to God. “When He slew them,” it says, “then they sought Him diligently, and turned, and were early in coming to God.” (Ps. 78:34.) And again, “When the beloved waxed gross and fat, then he kicked.” (Deut. 32:15.) For “the Lord is known when He executeth judgments.” (Ps. 9:16.)—John Chrysostom, Homily XXXIII (on Heb. 13:16)  
For at that time the very nature of our tribulation restrained us, however unwillingly, and disposed us to sobriety; and led us to become more religious; but now when the bridle is removed, and the cloud has passed away, there is fear lest we should fall back again into sloth, or become relaxed by this respite; and lest one should have reason to say of us too, “When He slew them, then they sought Him, and returned, and enquired early after God.”—John Chrysostom, De stat. 17.2
SECOND READING: Philippians 2:6-11
Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he 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.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Traditionally this passage has been referred to by scholars as a "Christ-hymn" because many have argued that Paul is here drawing on some kind of early Christian hymn. Whether that is the case or not (whether it was a hymn or not seems increasingly unlikely) is not an argument we can venture into here. While much (MUCH!) could be said about this passage, again, let me highlight just a couple of key ideas that seem present here. 

1. Christ's divinity and pre-existence. It seems difficult to deny that Paul is here affirming both the pre-existence and divinity of Jesus. Prior to becoming man Christ is said to have been "in the form of God". Later, Paul affirms that Christ was "in the form of man", i.e., human. That Paul believed Jesus was a man and didn't simply "appear" as a human is clear from other passages (e.g., Rom. 1:3). In short, while many will debate the precise nuance of Paul's meaning, I think the early Church's reading makes the most sense out of the passage: Jesus, who is divine, became human. 

2. Self-emptying. As Methodist scholar Michael Gorman has beautifully demonstrated, there is a  progressive descent envisioned in the first part of the passage: Jesus "emptied" himself in becoming human and then, as man, further humbled himself by dying on a cross. 

Here we have to mention that the full impact of Paul's discussion is often lost on us in the twentieth century, where the image of the cross has largely been sanitized. For people in Paul's world, crucifixion was nothing less than an abomination. For more on the horror of crucifixion, go see this post. To put it briefly, Christ humbled himself by becoming man, but the crucifixion is also seen as a kind of unimaginable humiliation. 

There is a bit of debate about how to translate the line "though he was in the form of God". It could be translated, "because he was in the form of God"--in other words, what Christ does in his humanity (i.e., suffering on the cross), mirrors what he does in his divine life. On this reading, what Christ shows the world on the cross is nothing less than the life-giving love of the Triune God. Jesus' self-giving on the cross is done "because he was in the form of God"--i.e., self-giving is what God does! 

It should be mentioned that there is even more controversy about how to properly translate 2:6: "[he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped (harpagmos)." The term is a hapax legomenon, that is, a term that only appears once in the New Testament. Perhaps the best translation is "something at his disposal but not exploited for personal gain".[1]

3. Old Testament allusions. Some scholars see in the imagery an allusion to Adam who fell because he sought to be "equal to God". A case for allusions to the Suffering Servant figure of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 has also been made by scholars. Since Paul elsewhere makes use of both Adamic imagery (e.g., Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) and Suffering Servant imagery (the reference is likely in Rom. 4:25), it at least seems plausible that such echoes are intended here. (I cannot examine the arguments in detail here.)

4. Glorified through suffering. The take-away of the passage is this: Christ was glorified because he humbled himself. If we wish to be glorified with Christ we must, therefore, embrace our crosses and follow after him. 

GOSPEL: John 3:13-17
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 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.
Perhaps no biblical passage is more familiar than John 3:16. While its meaning is obviously pretty straightforward, let me make three observations.

1. Lifted up like the serpent.  We can note that the famous statement about Jesus' death is specifically linked to the Old Testament account of the plague of fiery serpents of our first reading. The language of being "lifted up", however, has a double meaning--yes, Moses raised up the image of the serpent, but Christ will be "lifted up" on the cross, from death, and into heaven (cf. John 8:28; 12:32). 

We might also observe that in Numbers, the punishment for sin--the fiery serpents--becomes the means of healing via the image made by Moses. Likewise, as death is recognized as a punishment for sin, Christ reveals that the punishment is also in some way related to redemption--the very penalty given as a result of sin becomes the means by which we are saved from perishing. 

2. Eternal life. That Jesus promises "eternal life" is significant. Of course, it is not simply the "duration" of the new life that Christ brings that is important. "Eternal life" also speaks to the nature of the life that Christ shares with believers, i.e., a share in his divine life. 

3. The condemned does not condemn. Notice that the passage ends by emphasizing that Christ did not come into the world to "condemn it" but to "save" it. The point is ironic: Christ did not come to condemn the world--even though it deserved to be condemned! Yet Christ who did not deserve to be condemned was executed as a criminal! 

But in the end, while it seems like divine justice has failed, Jesus triumphs because the love of God is victorious--it saves those who should have been judged... like you and me. And God does this through the cross. Suffering may seem like a sign of God's absence, but God reveals that suffering is redemptive. Suffering is linked to repentance (Ps 78:34). Let us take up our cross and follow after Christ! 

[1] See Roy W. Hoover, “The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution,” HTR 64 (1971): 95–119; Gerald F. Hawthorne, “In the Form of God,” in Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2 (R. P. Martin and B. J. Dodd, eds.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 96–110.


Susan Moore said...

Thanks for this. It’s been a long time since I’ve considered the Numbers verses. Much floods my mind from this, but two main thoughts:
One is how this is a perfect example of how ‘healing’ and ‘salvation’ are used interchangeably in Scripture –they are the same thing. Jesus did not come just to heal our souls (“Only say the word and my soul shall be healed”), he came to save our entire being: body, mind, and spirit; by saving our relationship with God and each other. His sozo (Greek transliteration) is complete. He is a fulfillment of the natural law as well. I’m referring to the connection between staring at the serpent on the pole and being healed and staring at Christ on the pole and being saved. The practice of medicine and theology are not two separate things, they are two specialties within the same practice of salvation/healing (add psychology, for what it’s worth, and sociology and philosophy would perhaps be human representations of the other specialties within the same healing/salvation of Christ). It's most important to remember that it’s Christ who holds all things together (Col.). In the created world, we are a created ‘thing’, a creation, in contrast to being God, the Creator.

The other main thought is related to the first. Just as Christ is the image of the invisible God, the serpent is the image of the invisible Satan (Rev. 20:2). Christ took on our sin, became sin, and died for our sin, so that we may have life in Him. By grace, through our faith in Him we know that Satan, sin and death has been conquered by Him. This began in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden. Note the difference that occurred as a result of the fall: serpent and people in a well-tended garden, then serpent and people wandering in a desert. Christ crushed the head of the serpent by dying on the cross and resurrecting from the dead, and in that way as became the new Adam. Christ is the head of His body, the Church. The Church, His bride, is generally thought in the female gender. And we who are in Him, and He in us, are His new creations. As His new creations in Him we are enabled by grace through faith in Him to heal (the complete being of a human) by works of miracles. Sorry, quickly written, gotta go to work.

Thomas Renz said...

I find David Stubbs illuminating on the bronze serpent. I have excerpted the section on my blog at

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I find Isaiah's use of seraphic imagery [Isaiah 6:2] to be relevant, here. Renz points out the connection with pagan image of a serpent as a "potent symbol of life and death", but in this case, the connection is made with the serpent of the rod of Aaron, a different Hebrew word than the one in today's selection from Numbers.

On the other hand, Isaiah does use the same word in reference to a serpent. Isaiah 14:29 says "Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you, that the rod which smote you is broken, for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder,
and its fruit will be a flying serpent." The first "serpent" is the one mentioned in Exodus 4:3, Genesis 3:1 and (according to my version of the KJV with Strong numbers) Numbers 21:6 (which verse references both kinds of serpents), while the second "serpent" is the one of Numbers 21:8.

Even more revealing, to me, is Isaiah's imagery of the Seraphim in Isaiah 6:2,6, the plural of the form of the seraph-serpent. Thus, the Old Testament use of the "low" serpent of Genesis 3:1, etc., seems to refer to fallen angels, while the seraph-serpent seems to refer to God's angelic servants, those who have not fallen. The fact that they occur together (as it appears in KJV with Strong numbers - I don't have the original Hebrew) in Numbers 21:6 is particularly striking.

You're a Hebrew scholar. What's your take on this?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps exaltation rather than exultation?

Michael Barber said...


I think Stubbs is making some valid points there. However, let's not conclude that the symbolic meaning of the graven image somehow makes the bronze serpent itself meaning--it is a sacramental sign, i.e., looking at the image itself is what brings healing.

Fr. Larry,

The Hebrew is the same in all of the instances here so I'm not sure one can make much out of a "low" serpent, at least from a linguistic point of view. Still, I agree that Isaiah 14 is relevant and I should have mentioned it. Thanks for bringing it up here!

Michael Barber said...


I think Stubbs is making some valid points there. However, let's not conclude that the symbolic meaning of the graven image somehow makes the bronze serpent itself meaning--it is a sacramental sign, i.e., looking at the image itself is what brings healing.

Fr. Larry,

The Hebrew is the same in all of the instances here so I'm not sure one can make much out of a "low" serpent, at least from a linguistic point of view. Still, I agree that Isaiah 14 is relevant and I should have mentioned it. Thanks for bringing it up here!

Nick said...

I find it fascinating that God not only puts prophecies in Prophets' mouths but also fulfills said prophecies. It's especially fascinating with Jesus, because He knows as God the prophecies He's come to fulfill. I suppose some might mistake such prophecies for self-prophesy since God is both the Source and Fulfillment of His Own prophecies, but, I consider it a sign of the Father's Providence.

Nick said...

"self-prophesy" is a typo, I meant "self-fulfilling prophecy", which is a type of postdiction (not to be confused with prediction!).

Thomas Renz said...


I am not sure that I understand which conclusion you seek to guard against. I did not read Stubbs as denying the sacramental nature of this event and it is of course clear that there was no healing without looking at the image. Do you want to emphasise "looking at the image itself" by way of denying the need of doing so in faith and repentance?

Fr. Larry,

While Stubbs acknowledges that modern scholars often appeal to the serpent as a "potent symbol of life and death", he distances himself from this view, preferring an exclusively inner-biblical interpretation.

I cannot make up my mkind about how relevant Isa 6 is. The seraphs there are winged, the one in Num 21 does not seem to be winged. Then again, the seraph/serpent on the emblem of rulers of Lower Egypt was winged and Stubbs makes a good case for seeing (the desire to return to) Egypt symbolised in the seraph.

Given that in Isa 14 the seraph is the fruit of the viper (tzefa) that comes from the root of the serpent (nachash), it does not seem to me likely that seraph is the positive counterpart to nachash.

My guess would be that nachash is the generic name for all sorts of snakes, tzefa refers to a poisonous snake and seraph to a most dangerous and poisonous snake, maybe (and only maybe) specifically to a cobra.

Thomas Renz said...

There are, of course, a few fascinating connections one could make. Isa 14.29 speaks of a staff as well as serpents but the word for “staff” is not the same as the word used consistently in the Exodus story (Exod 4.2-3; 7.9-10, 15).

Isa 6 and Isa 14 are both linked to the death of a Davidic king.

The root (sheresh) in Isa 14.29 may make us think of Isa 11.1. Indeed the Targum to Isa 14.29 reads “for from the sons of the son of Jesse shall the Messiah come forth and his deeds shall be among you as a deadly serpent” and certainly some Christian commentators have read the text similarly. Here is Franz Delitzsch:

"The power from which Philistia had escaped was a common snake (nâchâsh), which had been either cut to pieces, or had died out down to the very roots. But out of this root, i.e., out of the house of David, which had been reduced to the humble condition of its tribal house, there was coming forth a (zepha‛), a basilisk (regulus, as Jerome and other early translators render it: see at Isaiah 11:8); and this basilisk, which is dangerous and even fatal in itself, as soon as it had reached maturity, would bring forth a winged dragon as its fruit. The basilisk is Hezekiah, and the flying dragon is the Messiah (this is the explanation given by the Targum); or, what is the same thing, the former is the Davidic government of the immediate future, the latter the Davidic government of the ultimate future. The figure may appear an inappropriate one, because the serpent is a symbol of evil; but it is not a symbol of evil only, but of a curse also, and a curse is the energetic expression of the penal justice of God. And it is as the executor of such a curse in the form of a judgment of God upon Philistia that the Davidic king is here described in a threefold climax as a snake or serpent. The selection of this figure may possibly have also been suggested by Genesis 49:17; for the saying of Jacob concerning Dan was fulfilled in Samson, the sworn foe of the Philistines."

Food for thought. But in my view two steps are always required towards a plausible reading, the imaginative exercise of finding connections and the analytical task of examining their validity.

A lot of biblical scholars, I am sorry to say, seem to lack imagination. Others lack rigour, thinking that if they can see a close connection, there must be one. Some of course seem to lack both imagination and rigour...

All this is just to say, I'd need to give it more thought. Although I can add that Franz Delitzsch was both a profound biblical theologian who saw connections and a very rigourous exegete.

Susan Moore said...

Thats the problem, isnt it with the historical-cultural form of exegesis -it requires imagination to connect the dots? Its not the right exegesical tool to look at the Bible as a whole and does not offer any way to do so outside of imagination.

But the linguistic meta-language is a tool to connect the dots and to look at the Bible as one book. However, it offers no way to study historical or cultural contexts. Both forms of exegesis are necessary to come to correct understandings about the inspired word of God.

Susan Moore said...

So, it seems to me (and I am seeking feedback on this), what needs to be done is for the Magisterium to be formally approached in a request for permission for a prescribed group of scholars to be relieved of their obligations and duties to their historical-cultural contextual studies, so that they may devote their study to God's linguistic meta-language, as applied to Sacred Scriptures, with their first and immediate goal being to map out God's meta-language in the original human languages in which Scripture was first written (as much as possible, due to manuscript availability), and therefore discern the reliability and validity of that linguistic meta-language to accurately interpret those Scriptures, and to define the prudent scope of practice for the application of that meta-language.

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

Michael, your inclusion of the insignia of the Army Medical Corps put me in mind of Matthew 10:16.

Susan Moore said...

Matthew 10:16 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves."
Eve was innocent as a dove, but not as shrewd as the serpent. Christ askes for his new body (since He is the new Adam), to step up to their calling from Him, which is the same calling that was laid before Adam, and denied (a denial that resulted in the fall). As is His pattern of raising His children; He freely gives to His children the first time, then when we screw it up we have to work for it the next time.
The serpent in scripture is a great example through which to lay out the lingusitic meta-language, because it is relatively 'simple' to lay out in comparison to other elements of God's creation.
But I'm out of town with my mom as my dad has taken ill and is in the hosptial (but seems to be on the mend and hopes to come home tomorrow), I don't have my notes and stuff with me. Please pray for my dad, and for an increase in courage and wisdom in His body. Thanks much and blessings,

Thomas Renz said...

@Susan: It is not my task to comment on what the Magisterium should or should not do and how RC biblical scholars are about to go their task. Also, James B. Jordan is not a Roman Catholic and I have not actually read his best-known book but I know a little about him and his writings and I wonder whether his Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World is the sort of thing you have in mind.

You can read it at

Blessings, Thomas

Susan Moore said...

Thank you, Dr. Renz, for the interest and the link. In the ‘You’re getting hotter’ game, I’d say Jordan is getting hotter when he notes that symbols are present and important in the Bible, that they are some way directly related to the written word. He has even correctly picked out some of the symbolism and sometimes even begins to use them correctly.

But he immediately heads toward ‘colder’ when he attempts to explain what he sees by going outside of scripture and comparing what he sees to what other humans have seen as described in their written human words; human words, which though they may contain kernels of truth, are not the inspired word of God.

Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, is His own witness, yes?

The best account I have ever seen of the symbols being put in their correct spaces and times comes from a book I am currently reading by John Bergsma, “Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History” (Ave Maria Press). Although Dr. Bergsma neither directly defines nor describes the linguistic meta-language I am trying to expose so that the believing world may see it, he uses it expertly.

Susan Moore said...

Clarification to my most recent response above, please change, "he uses it expertly" to "he follows it and expresses it expertly."

Thomas Renz said...

Great! The genre is, as you indicate, a little different from Jordan's book. Pitre's covenant-focused overview makes me think of Graeme Goldsworthy's According to Plan and Peter Leithart's A House for My Name although the latter covers only the Old Testament.

Susan Moore said...

Dr. Renz,
I have to confess, except for what I have to read for classes, I prefer to spend my time with Him, in Sacred Scriptures. My life has proven that He is the only living being who is faithful and true. Because my life has clearly played out a reflection of His love for even His strong-willed and rebellious children, in general, I am loathed to spend my time with human authors. It’s nothing personal, just a matter of priorities of what to do with my 24 hour day. I have learned His grace is sufficient.

Although, I should add, I am not loathed to spend my time with others in person, and in a personal way comparing our thoughts and experiences. It’s all about relationships. Afterall, it’s not the reason that makes us happy or unhappy, but the relationships.
Understanding of what makes us happy and unhappy came from finally comprehending the poem, “Of Mere Being” by Wallace Stevens:
“The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.

The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.”

And, blessedly, He is before all things and only in Him do all things hold together (Col. 1:17)!

Addendum: it seems Dietrick Von Hildebrand's "The Heart" (also currently reading) will prove to be insightful on this subject as well.

Anonymous said...

The feast of the Triumph of the Cross is here, and the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist will be unveiled @

For without the Tree of the Cross, there is no redemption, the gates of heaven will not open and there is no resurrection. The Tree of the Cross is the Tree of Life.

You are invited to set the world on fire!

Bill from Denver said...

This is not a criticism--I sincerely hope all the posters here spend alot more time serving as directed (for example) in Matthew 25:31-46. rather than all the time spent on exegesis displayed here.

heidi said...

Mr. Bill from Denver:
With all due respect- you are in great need of reading and meditating on Pope Pius XIII's encyclical "Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae"

Pope Leo XIII examines the american heresy dubbed "americanism" that has a super focused attention on active acts of virtue while dismissing all other acts as lower in virtue and sanctity. The Pope corrects this inversion of norms succinctly and warns against how easy it is to fall into because it is born of the values of the culture in which we live.
"This overesteem of natural virtue finds a method of expression in assuming to divide all virtues in active and passive, and it is alleged that whereas passive virtues found better place in past times, our age is to be characterized by the active. That such a division and distinction cannot be maintained is patent-for there is not, nor can there be, merely passive virtue. "Virtue," says St. Thomas Aquinas, "designates the perfection of some faculty, but end of such faculty is an act, and an act of virtue is naught else than the good use of free will," acting, that is to say, under the grace of God if the act be one of supernatural virtue."

Additionally, last time I checked, it is the vocation of the clergy to catechize the faithful. This responsibility cannot be adequately fulfilled if one remains ignorant of scripture. How I wish our local parish was blessed with a pastor who valued exegesis and used it to educate his flock! Sadly, I have encountered too many priests who turn every homily into an exhortation on civic "duty" and "community" while totally ignoring the applicable sense of the text.

The clergy who participate in the noble mission of Catholic exegesis here on this blog should be commended and not be given a veiled rebuke by someone who displays such an indelicate and obtuse understanding of scripture themselves.

Ironically, the readings that Dr. Barber exegeted above advise the contemplation/mediation of the cross to heal the wounds that the lack of charity has inflicted in the people. Mediation, not the active life, is being recommended in the passage from Numbers.

And one can't mediate on something or someone whom they do not know.

131 "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life."109 Hence "access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful."110

132 "Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too - pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place - is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture."111

133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.112

With a blessing,

Anonymous said...

Regarding the bronze serpent as a sacramental - remember 2 Kings 18:4. Hezekiah, king over Judah, broke into pieces the pole with the bronze serpent... this was 700 years after the Exodus event in the wilderness. The people had come to forget the original intent of the sacramental and now worshiped the pole - calling it Nehustan -- "hunk of metal/bronze".

We are reminded of good formation and on-going catechesis.

Bill said...

Heidi-don't understand all the words and comments by you--sorry! Only have a 5th grade education. Question--do you mean that since I and maybe 99% of the folks in the world don't understand all this that we are doomed? Many, like me are just attempting to follow Mother Teresa's words i.e. "we serve Jesus in His most distressing disguise".

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Will Perez

Thomas Renz said...

Bill - maybe your time is indeed better spent doing or reading something else. We are of course all called to meditate ("read") as well as serve ("do"). Some are called to do more of the one than the other. Your comment sounded as if you were suggesting that we might all be better off to shut up. This may be true but none of us should make such a judgement about people they do not know.

If this discussion isn't good for you, stop following it. Keep serving Jesus and in so far as some reading will likely do you good, maybe pick up the book by Pitre which looks very accessible.

Blessings, Thomas

Bill said...

From the Pope Francis Christmas message of December 18, 2013

"Whoever has nourished, welcomed, visited, loved one of the least and poorest of men, will have done this to the Son of God. On the contrary, whoever has rejected, forgotten, ignored one of the least and poorest of men, will have done this to God himself."

"Let us act so that our brothers and sisters never feel alone! Our presence in solidarity by their side expresses not only through the words of but also through the eloquence of deeds that God is close to everyone-"