Word is getting around about this Jesus. He’s been doing some amazing things: healing blind people, raising paralyzed people, casting out demons. But his latest feat was really something: he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Everybody is talking about this one!
In fact, Jesus had caused such a commotion that the religious leaders are getting real nervous. The Jewish high council gathered and after some debate, the high priest made his judgment: This man has to die! He is causing too much of a stir, risking undue attention from the Romans, and he has to go. We have to find a way to hand him over.
It is then that Jesus makes his next move. Instead of disappearing for awhile, instead of flying low under the radar, Jesus organizes a political demonstration at the same time that the Roman soldiers are having a demonstration of their own. Riding on a borrowed donkey, mocking the pomp and circumstance of the Roman parade on the other side of town, he parades into Jerusalem. The crowds go wild with their approval! Jewish leaders are furious, however, and it is clear that things will soon be resolved, one way or another.
At this point some Greeks, those who were perhaps interested in the Jewish way of life, come to see Jesus. They want to discuss philosophy with him; they want to understand him better. They are captivated by this man who had raised the dead and now had stirred up the religious leaders. They want to know more about Jesus—in fact, they want to see Jesus. They approach one of his disciples, Philip (who has a Greek-sounding name) and asked: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip and Andrew agreed to bring them to see Jesus.
And when they come to Jesus, he says to them, “My time has come. I’m about to claim my glory!”
This something I can relate to: I would love to see Jesus glorified, coming in power to crush his enemies. Especially the enemies that also happen to be my enemies! I would love it if Jesus came in power to destroy all opposition and poverty and religious hypocrisy….and made everything in my world nice and comfortable.
Well, the reality is that Jesus isn’t the least bit interested in being that kind of Jesus. As we read last Sunday, this Jesus says, “…when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself”, which John says is an indication of the kind of death Jesus knew he was going to experience.
The real Jesus knows he is about to die; he knows it’s not going to be pretty. He’s not going to die in his sleep. He’s not going to have a classic soap opera death that comes as a result of a painless, 2 week terminal illness. It will be ugly, public and painful. And that will be his hour of glory.
It seems ridiculous to us to think that glory of any kind can be revealed through capital punishment on a cross. We’re more like those Greeks. We’d like to see Jesus vanquish his enemies or, even better, let us help him destroy them. We think Jesus should go after our human enemies, making everything easier for us, but Jesus has another plan. The enemy he is going to defeat is injustice and hatred. “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out!” he declares to the Greeks. Jesus is going to the cross, and there he’s going to defeat the power of Empire and overcome every human limitation, including death. He will draw all people and all things to himself in the process. His death will be his victory!
I don’t know how all that sounded to the Greeks—but my suspicion is that it sounded a lot like it sounds to me. It sounds unlikely at best, absurd at worst: destroy evil by becoming its victim? Destroy death by dying? It sounds like a plan for disaster.
Jesus is teaching us today that God’s ways are different from ours—and that God’s ways actually produce what God intends—abundant life! It’s a mystery. Just like the death of a seed, buried in the ground, produces a crop, it’s a mystery. Death results in life. To let go is to receive. And a death by crucifixion attracts and saves all things, all people.
This can happen only in the counterintuitive wisdom of God, to those who allow themselves to relinquish all control, all their biases and judgments about how life “ought” to be, all their need to be in charge.
When my firstborn son came into this world, I was filled with awe at the power and mystery of human life. I gave him everything I had inside me, and he grew and matured, bursting toward tomorrow with the joy of youth. As he became older, we had conflicts. We were a lot alike, nonetheless, it was annoying and exasperating. And when he was taken from me, 12 years ago, in a sudden accident, I forgot momentarily who I was. His funeral was 2 days after Easter, and when we came together at the church for the full Orthodox burial rites, I led the congregation in singing victory chants of Easter, the songs of the triumph of life over death.
I was far from the perfect parent for Chris, but nonetheless, I gave him 19 years of love and support. The argument could have been made that I “wasted” 19 years on a young man destined to die before he brought anything of value to the world. This kind of argument makes sense to those who measure gain and loss as the world does. But even now, knowing how his life ends, if I was offered the chance to raise him all over again, I would do it. Raising Chris and knowing Chris and being loved by Chris brought something powerful to my life and even now I have an extraordinary richness in my life that would not exist had Chris not come into my life. So I am grateful. For all of it.
Some of life’s lessons are learned in anguish and darkness, but that doesn’t mean the lessons aren’t valuable and even life-changing. Jesus reminds us that it is precisely in these times when we are transfigured in glory. The cross appeared to bring nothing but death to Jesus, but instead it brought the abundance of life. It will always be the same for us, if we only surrender control to the God who loves us beyond our comprehension. In letting go of needing our life to be the way we want it, we move ever closer to seeing Jesus in glory, Jesus as he really is. In loving God more than our own fantasies about how our life ought to be, we share in that glory that comes from our own surrender to the crosses in our lives.
(I will be spending the upcoming week in the Silence at a Benedictine monastery, and will not have cell phone or Internet access until my return. Be assured that I will remember all those who read these posts in my daily Masses. God’s richest blessings be upon all of you!)