We are in the waning days of Lent, and Easter will be here in just two short weeks! This is the time when Lent starts to feel like it’s been going on forever, and we just can’t wait to take that first bite of the dessert we gave up, or to open that bottle of beer we’ve been saving for Easter.We have signs that the Easter Triduum is almost here, as we enter a church today with statues veiled. It’s so close, but it’s not here yet. Still, we get the feeling that something… is about to happen. It’s a mixed feeling, knowing that Easter is coming, yet knowing that Good Friday must come first.
This is the scene Jesus encounters in our gospel reading today. He has entered Jerusalem, and he knows what is going to happen. Now, it’s about to get chronologically confusing here, because next week is Palm Sunday, the day when we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with everyone waving branches in the air and shouting “Hosanna!” But this week’s gospel reading happens immediately after his entry into Jerusalem. So, chronologically speaking, these two stories are flip-flopped. Why? Because the emphasis this week is that sense that all these events are coming to a head.
Jesus knows what events are about to take place in the next few days. And he speaks aloud the troubled feelings of his heart. He must have felt an immense dread come over him. A deep, dark fear, knowing that his mission on earth was about to culminate in a most gruesome way. We know that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus experienced a dread and a stress so great that he sweat drops of blood. Today is a precursor to that agonizing night in the Garden, because Jesus realizes that his hour has come.
And what is it that signifies that his hour has come? It’s easy to miss it, but it’s the first verse of the reading: “Some Greeks…came to Philip… and asked him, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’” The key detail here is who has come to see Jesus—Philip, Andrew, and the Greeks. You see, Philip and Andrew were the only two Apostles with Greek names. The rest were in Hebrew, but these two had Greek names. And so, the Greeks approached them first, saying, “We want to see Jesus.” As if to say, “Put in a good word for us.” You may recall that, over the course of his ministry, Jesus tried to send some people away. To one he said, “I have come only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and to another, “It is not right to take the food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”Jesus was focused on ministering first to God’s chosen people, the Jews, but it was all because he was eventually going to open up salvation to every nation, to all the Gentiles, including, you guessed it, the Greeks.
I also find fascinating the verse right before the reading today. The Pharisees, who were plotting to kill Jesus are griping and complaining that everyone just loves this Jesus guy, and all because he raised some guy Lazarus from the dead. So the Pharisees say to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.” Yes, the whole world indeed. The nations of the world, the Gentiles, are represented by those curious Greek pilgrims. They are beginning to come to Jesus, and so Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” And “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
And so, once again, Jesus predicts his own crucifixion, and this thought fills him with dread. Remember that Jesus is fully divine, but he is also fully human. In his divinity, he knew the horrible death that awaited him. In his humanity, he was very much afraid. Not afraid that he might not rise from the dead, of course, but afraid of the pain, the shame, and the abandonment. Yet, he embraced that cross and carried it. He wore the crown of thorns, and he endured the beatings. He heard the mockery and cursing shouted at him. He bled, and he fell, and he bled some more. He was stripped naked and nailed to a cross. And then, when the torture seemed that it could not get worse, his friends all abandoned him. Some say that this abandonment was the worst pain of all.
And yet, Christ did it all for us. He did that for you and me. He faced his human fears and chose to accept the humiliation and pain. He chose the cross instead of comfort, because only one of these leads to glory—and it ain’t comfort. The way to Easter glory is thru the cross.
And so, Jesus prays, “Father, glorify your name.”
The Father answers “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The Father had indeed glorified his name thru the works, or signs, of Jesus. The first half of John’s gospel bears witness to all these signs:
- Miracle at Cana
- Cleansing of the Temple
- Multiplication of the loaves and fishes
- Forgiveness of the adulterous woman
- Healing of the blind man
- The raising of Lazarus
All these signs pointed to the reality that Jesus was the Son of God, and God was glorified in him. And with each sign Jesus performed, more and more people came to believe.
Belief is a funny thing.
In the gospel reading, when God speaks, the whole crowd hears the same thing, but they have different reactions.Some say it was merely thunder, while others say it was the voice of an angel. Yet, it was the neither… it was the voice of God. This reveals to us something about belief.
Whether for the crowds of the first century, or regular folks today, we tend to color our experiences with our biases and pre-conceived notions. We tend to accept only those facts that confirm our biases.
How many atheists today have tried to explain away the miracles of Jesus, or of the Old Testament, saying that it’s all coincidence, or the weather, or a chemical reaction? Even some liberal theologians try to explain away the miracles. It’s that same hardness of heart, that today we would call “confirmation bias.” It is an attitude that is closed to the wonders and signs that God is doing even today, right under our noses. “We demand proof,” they say, “and then we will believe.” But I would predict that, even if they get that proof, there will always be one more excuse not to believe.
In reality, God has already revealed himself and glorified himself in our midst. What further proof do we need of God’s existence? Of his love? What would be enough to convince us?
For those whose spiritual eyes and ears are open, the works of God are plain to see, and no further proof is needed. Yes, the traces of God are all around us, if only our hearts are open and ready to believe. Today, near the end of Lent, we remember the words with which Lent started: “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” May our faith be reignited as we journey towards the Holy Triduum, and may we all share in the glory of Jesus Christ on Easter morning.