On the Cross, Jesus assumes the place of sinners.
On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the liturgy focuses on this mystery, emphasizing how total is Jesus’ solidarity with us sinners: Jesus becomes a curse. The solidarity is at the level of being, not just of consciousness, so much so that later tradition will clarify that Jesus becomes like us “in all things but sin”: a jejune characterization if it were not for the fact that Jesus’ solidarity with us, in our state of waywardness, is total.
At matins, we pray: “Christ has delivered us from the power of the law’s curse by Himself becoming a curse for us, as it is written: ‘Accursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree.’”
Jesus becomes a curse. And the lectionary doubles down on this theme, by placing before our eyes the remedy God the Father provides to heal those who are bitten by the serpents sent as punishment for ingratitude and the failure to trust: “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.”
In Greek, the word for drug, pharmakon, can mean both remedy and poison. What Jesus does is drain the chalice filled with the poison of all the world’s sin and transmutes it into His saving Blood.
Jesus Himself points to the episode of the serpents in his dialogue with Nicodemus: “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.”
Saint John explicates precisely that reference with the sublimest summation of the Gospel: “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 Victim overcomes the darkness of the world by suffering all of it, including ignominy, and falling under it, accursed. Love does indeed conquer all, but only by going under. Yet the vindication is real. By the Cross, our falling is the path to our rising.