One thing I enjoy is finding out the origin of common expressions. One such expression is, “Knock on wood.” For a long time, I wondered why people say, “Knock on wood.” I noticed they say it when discussing some fortune or good luck. For example, some may say, “I have never gotten a traffic ticket, knock on wood.” Others may say, “I have never been hospitalized; knock on wood.” People say, “Knock on wood,” when they claim that they avoided misfortune and want their lucky streak to continue. I found two possible origins of this saying: the Pagan origin and the Christian origin.

For the pagan origin, “Knock on wood” stems from the fear entertained by pagans that some evil spirits may deprive them of their good fortune. They believed that evil spirits lived on trees, so whenever such people wanted to talk about something good happening in their lives, if they were close to a tree, they knocked loudly on the stem of the tree to overshadow their voices so that the evil spirits would not hear their conversations and change their fortune. Also, in their homes made of wooden huts, whenever people wanted to talk about their good fortunes, they would knock loudly on the wooden wall to drown their conversations, making it impossible for the evil spirits to hear them.

Christians, however, associate this expression, “Knock on wood,” with the wood of the Cross of Christ. The Cross of Christ is at the center of Christianity. Some Churches take pride and comfort in hosting a relic, a piece of the actual Cross of Christ. This devotion to the Cross of Christ grew into Christians connecting every wood to the wood of the Cross. So, Christians devoutly touched woods in memory of the wood of the Cross while seeking protection from evil. For the Cross is the sign of the victory of Christ over evil. In those days, the Church also served as a sanctuary, a safe place for people running from danger. Once a person running from his pursuers reached the Holy Precinct and touched the Church’s wooden door, no one could touch them anymore because they were under the protection of the Cross.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus said to 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.” The lifting up of Jesus will be taking place on the cross on Good Friday. In this gospel passage, Jesus refers to an event in the Book of Numbers 21:5-9. After the children of Israel murmured against God, they were bitten by snakes. Moses then cried to God for help. God instructed Moses to mold a bronze serpent, and anyone bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze serpent was healed. How amazing it is to find the solution to the problem in the source of the problem; to find the cure for the illness in the cause of the illness. The snake caused the pain, and by looking at the image of the snake, the children of Israel were saved.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus tells us that the snake event was a preparation for Jesus, who would be hanging on the cross. The tree in the Garden of Eden was the cause of the fall of humanity, and so to save humanity, Jesus had to climb the tree, the cross. Today, we venerate the cross, but that was not how it started. The cross was the punishment reserved for the worst criminals in the society. The cross was an emblem of shame, but because Jesus went to the cross, it has become an object of worship.

In this season of Lent, the Church gives us the opportunity to reflect on the Cross of Christ. In most parishes, there is a communal Stations of the Cross every Friday of Lent. Some other parishes add every Wednesday of the season of Lent. This devotion is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the salvific work of Christ on the Cross.

My dearly beloved in Christ, I invite you to reflect on this Holy Cross. It is the place where things are turned around for good. Come to the cross as you are. At the cross, your shame will be turned to fame, your pain will be turned to gain, your mess will receive divine mercy, and your disgrace will receive divine grace. Bring your grief to the Cross and Jesus will give you relief. The cross tells you how much God loves you. It tells you how much you are worth. Your worth is not in your bank account, not in your academic qualifications, not in your looks. Your worth lies in the fact that Jesus went to the Cross for you. So, if anyone asks you, “What is your net worth? Simply say, “I am worth the life of the Only Begotten Son of God.” We adore you, oh Christ, and we bless you! Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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