Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)
Central idea: The exaltation of Christ crucified. Doctrine: Jesus died crucified for our salvation. Practical application: Devotion to Christ crucified.
To view Lectionary 638, click here.
Central Idea: The exaltation of Christ crucified.
Reading 1 Nm 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.
- This reading is an example of how Christians see the Gospel hidden in the Old Testament.
- Saraph means fiery, possibly due to these serpents’ burning venom.
- The Chosen People understood these poisonous snakes to be punishment for them not having faith in God or his prophet Moses. After they repented, Moses prayed and God’s answer was to instruct Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and mount it on a pole, “and if any have been bitten look at it, they will live.”
- The mounted bronze saraph represented this poisonous creature, which bit people and caused them to die. If a person bitten by one of these serpents just looked up at this image of evil and death, he would live.
- In light of the Gospel, we can say that every human being has been “bitten” by the serpent which seduced Adam and Eve in the Garden. Every one of us has inherited the condition of original sin and we experience its consequences, even if we are baptized. Our inclination to sin leads us to sin and so each time we do, we are “bitten” again. And death is a consequence of sin (CCC 1008).
- Sin and death have been personified in the Passion of Christ. Our Lord took on himself the sin of the world, so when we look on the cross with faith, we are seeing both what causes death and the sacrificial victim who is the remedy for sin and death.
- “If any have been bitten look at it, they will live.” If we look upon the crucified Christ with the eyes of faith, we will live eternally (Mk 1:15).
Responsorial Psalm Ps 78:1BC-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
R. 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.
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.
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.
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.
- In the formation God gave his Chosen People, faithfulness to their covenant was blessed and unfaithfulness was punished. This was how the Jews interpreted the saraph serpent: as punishment for the complaining which arose from a lack of trust in God and Moses.
- In the desert, one kind of suffering (not having a home, eating the same thing over and over, and not knowing where their next drink of water would come from) led the Israelites to lose faith in God’s care for them and to blame Moses. Then another kind of suffering (deadly snake bites) caused them to remember God. What they needed all along were steadfast hearts faithful to the covenant.
- To apply this to us, one reason God permits us to suffer in so many ways in this life is that, unfortunately, that is the way many of us begin to remember him. God permits the suffering only so he can exercise his mercy.
Reading 2 Phil 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.
- St. Paul is explaining Christ’s kenosis or emptying: “The voluntary renunciation by Christ of his right to divine privilege in his humble acceptance of human status” (Hardon). Christ our Lord lived this emptying to such perfection that he became “obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Therefore, God the Father exalted him to the greatest degree possible, making him Lord.
- As a consequence of Christ’s kenosis, the supreme expression of which was his death on the cross, God has greatly exalted him, and so should we. This is why we glorify Christ crucified.
Gospel Jn 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.
- The evangelist John’s reflection (3:16) encapsulates the core of the kerygma (“the irreducible essence of Christian apostolic preaching”). God the Father sent his Son into the world. Why? To give us salvation and eternal life. John 3:16 is justly famous and extremely attractive, but we miss something essential by taking it out of its context of the crucifixion.
- God the Father “gave” us the gift of his Son for our salvation. He also “gave him over” to us, sinful men, who lifted him up on the cross. On the cross, the Father gave his Son for our salvation, “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The cross, that is, the Passion of Christ, is lifted up, exalted, because it is the way, through faith, that we can have salvation and eternal life.
Doctrine: Jesus died crucified for our salvation
- “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). Christ’s death for our salvation was foretold in Old Testament writings and events (CCC 619). One figure of this is the incident with the saraph serpents.
- “Our salvation flows from God’s initiative of love for us, because ‘he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins’ (1 Jn 4:10). ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5:19).” (CCC 620) As today’s Gospel put it, “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.”
- “Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: ‘This is my body which is given for you’ (Lk 22:19).” (CCC 621) In this mass, today, we really will be at the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and can receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
- “The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28), that is, he ‘loved [his own] to the end’ (Jn 13:1), so that they might be ‘ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers’ (1 Pet 1:18).” (CCC 622)
- “By his loving obedience to the Father, ‘unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil 2:8), Jesus fulfills the atoning mission (cf. Isa 53:10) of the suffering Servant, who will ‘make many righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities’ (Isa 53:11; cf. Rom 5:19).” (CCC 623)
Practical application: Devotion to Christ crucified
- The Blessed Trinity offers us salvation and eternal life won through Christ crucified. Here are some practical ways we can “exalt the cross,” that is, offer thanksgiving and praise to Christ crucified.
- Notice the large crucifix on or over the altar of your parish church. Now you know why it is there. Use this image to help you talk to Our Lord.
- Have at least one crucifix in the home, prominently displayed. This tells us and our children and our neighbors who we are.
- The Sign of the Cross, in which we trace the shape of the cross from our head to our heart and across our shoulders while invoking the Blessed Trinity, can be made more attentively.
- Many people find it helpful to keep a small crucifix with them, and if possible within view when they work, and to look at it from time to time with love, and even to kiss it, to unite themselves in their work to Christ crucified.
- Thinking of Christ crucified is a very good accompaniment to offering up the small and large crosses that come everyone’s way every day.
- The Way of the Cross with its fourteen stations is a means of mentally and physically tracing Our Lord’s final journey. Every Catholic church has a set of these and some are real works of art.