As we draw nearer to Holy Week, the gospel reading for this Sunday prepares us to enter with Jesus into his “hour,” the horrifying and yet triumphant purpose for which he was sent. Read the Sunday gospel here:
Part of my work in Catholic parish ministry involves preparing catechumens for baptism. It’s a great job. Helping folks baptized in other Christian traditions become Catholic is satisfying in its own way, but there’s something really special about people making the journey towards baptism.
Since Catholics almost always associate baptism with little babies, seeing an adult kneel down in the baptismal waters is a jarring and thrilling experience. It’s an annual reminder that while Jesus indeed loves the little children, the Gospel is good news for people who are in trouble – and, as a general rule, the people who are in the most trouble tend to be grownups.
Catechumens can be a lot like the Greeks in the passage for the 5th Sunday of Lent. They’ve been around the community long enough to see that something is going on with Jesus, and so they approach us and request, like the Greeks did of Philip, “We would like to see Jesus.” They want to encounter the risen Lord not at a distance, not as outsiders, but with the kind of exclusive access granted to the disciples. And so their conversion journey takes them more deeply into the faith and practices of the Church, and they begin, by God’s grace, to really see Jesus.
Jesus’s response to the Greek travelers suggests that really seeing him is not so easy. It’s not easy even for the disciples who have accompanied him to Jerusalem during these last days. They’re still as puzzled as ever by who he is and what he’s doing. And so when Jesus announces, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” I’m sure he got everyone’s attention, Greeks and disciples alike. The hour has come for Jesus to do what he came to do. The hour has come for him to stop speaking in riddles. The hour has come for his disciples to see him clearly, and to see the Father’s glory.
And what do Jesus’s followers see, finally, when Jesus is glorified?
They see the tortured body of a man who was arrested by religious leaders claiming to act on God’s behalf. They see a criminal executed by a state official devoted to upholding Roman peace. They see the one they loved betrayed. They see their world turned upside-down. Jesus’s glory is nothing like what they expected. So if the Greeks in the passage want to really see Jesus, they’ll need an entirely new kind of vision.
As I said earlier, the Gospel is good news for people who are in trouble. When adults come to the Church to be baptized, they invariably bring along experiences of loss, suffering, and disillusionment. They’ve seen the death of loved ones, the collapse of careers, and the failure of people in authority to do what is right. They have seen evidence firsthand that the “ruler of this world,” needs to be “driven out.” For all these reasons, catechumens are often more ready than the rest of us to recognize that Jesus’s glory is a paradox. It turns the world upside-down.
To really see Jesus means seeing one’s own life in an entirely different light. If we accept that Jesus’ glory is the cross, we accept that sharing his glory may not lead to the life we planned for ourselves or that others planned for us. It means recognizing that many of our successes turn out to be failures and that some of our deepest failures will become occasions for God to show forth his glory. For people who are in trouble, this is good news indeed.