Today is the feast of the exaltation of the holy cross, in which we recognize the cross as the instrument of our salvation. The words of a song we sing on Good Friday resonate through my mind as I reflect on these passages – “Behold, behold, the wood of the Cross, on which is hung our salvation. Oh come, let us adore.”
The first reading tells a familiar story of human frailty. “With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained….” Often we set out on our daily adventures filled with expectations and hope, only to find barriers have been erected to spoil our plans. Life is hard sometimes. Humans are pretty good at adapting and working around these problems that inevitably come our way. But sometimes we lose our nobility and blow a gasket. That can happen more easily when we are tired and hungry. Our bodies can let us down, and many times perhaps all we need is a little nap and some food and drink to bring us back to our senses. And if you can just have a friend to encourage you along the way, it is much easier to be patient and bear up under adversity on the journey. In this way, we are really not that different from our young children.
We had a drought this summer in the Midwest, which is taking a heavy toll on our crops and plants. Constantly waiting for rain, being teased by weather forecasts for showers that never seem to materialize, and watching crops burn and livestock suffer in the heat has left some of us feeling a little “worn out” from the experience. We are not masters of our destiny. We do indeed depend on God for our sustenance, which requires water. Over time, our patience can wear thin, and we wonder if He is listening to our prayers. Our elders reassure us, as they know these things happen and they don’t last forever. But it still wears us out to wait, and we still seek assurance that God knows our needs.
When human undertakings are involved, we may add to our inquiries: “who is in charge here?” and “what in the world is going on?”! That also seems to be the case with the Israelites. They begin to doubt Moses’ leadership. Instead of encouraging one another toward hope, they seem to be encouraging despair and dissension. They grumble instead of pursuing something more constructive. And of course, this was not the first time. They had been through this behavioral pattern before. Slow learners, those Israelites. Unfortunately, that is familiar to me, too.
We see this experience as an object lesson, in which the chastening of the Israelites is followed by salvation. By following God’s command to raise up an instrument which symbolized something they feared, they were restored. Many years later, that restoration would come in a more lasting and significant way through the wood of the cross. John’s Gospel connects up that story for us, just in case we missed the reference. The cross of suffering, death, and shame becomes something we must behold if we are to be restored.
May God help us to get the rest and food we need, and to have friends to encourage us along the way so that we may persevere instead of grumbling. And may He also open our eyes to see and rejoice in the salvation He has brought for us. “Come, let us adore.”