“Some Greeks came and said: We should like to see Jesus. And Jesus replied: Now the Hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
We’ve reached the turning point in St. John’s Gospel. The scene of the passage we’ve just heard is set on Palm Sunday. Jesus has entered Jerusalem in triumph, and John has just reported for us the comment of the Pharisees: Look, the whole world is going after him.
Then some Greeks came. We can understand this anonymous group as representative of the whole Gentile world: representative of ourselves. They ask to see Jesus. “To see” is always a loaded term in St. John’s Gospel. One striking example is the episode of the man born blind in Chapter 9. For John, natural sight is an image or symbol of faith, which is true seeing. Refusal of belief in Jesus, on the other hand, is for John true blindness, or a deliberate choice to live in darkness. And if sight is a symbol of faith, it must include all that faith entails. To see Jesus - to believe in him - means to become one with him; to enter into perfect communion with him. And because Jesus is the one who sees the Father, that also means entering into communion with God; sharing Jesus’ own relationship with his Father; inheriting the eternal life he came into the world to give.
Communion with God, divine Sonship, eternal Life: these are given to us as a result of the Paschal Mystery: that is, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus frequently refers to this event as his Hour. Now today, the 5th Sunday of lent, in anticipation of what we’ll be celebrating next week, we hear him declare that the Hour has come.
Four times in today’s Gospel passage Jesus repeats the word “Now”. Now the Hour has come; Now my soul is troubled; Now sentence is being passed on this world; Now the Prince of this world is to be overthrown.
The Hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus will be glorified - lifted up - when his saving mission is communicated to the whole world, to the gentiles of every nation and every age; to you and to me. He’ll be glorified - lifted up - in his Resurrection and Ascension, and in the giving of the Holy Spirit. But above all, for John, he’ll be glorified when he is lifted up on the Cross.
Of all the New Testament writers, John is the one who dwells most of all on the paradoxes of our faith. He begins with the central paradox of the Incarnation, that God, who is spirit, has chosen to communicate himself to us through flesh. From this flow an abundance of other paradoxes, and all of them find their focus and culmination in the Cross. The Cross, symbol of defeat and humiliation, is the place where Jesus achieves his victory and glory. The Cross, scene of the devil’s apparent triumph, is the place where he is finally defeated. The Cross, instrument of torture and death, is the source of healing and life for all the world.
Jesus illustrates this paradox in today’s Gospel with the image of the grain of wheat that must fall into the earth and die if it is to bear much fruit. We should notice that in the verses that follow, he speaks not about himself, but about us. For the pattern he set in his death and resurrection is the path we all have to follow. If we want to be glorified, we have to be humbled. If we want eternal life, we have to be ready to die. If we want to be with Jesus in his union with the Father, we have to be with him also in his sufferings and death.
We know this doctrine well: it’s at the heart of the Gospel. But we find it so hard: either to understand or to put into practice. So according to St. Benedict, the novice master must often set forth to his novices how we go to God through dura et aspera - hard and difficult things. We may be consoled to know that Jesus also found it hard; not less so than us, but more. In today’s Gospel, St. John briefly alludes to the anguish he felt as he faced his Passion. How typical of John, though, to present that as a paradox. As the Father’s voice responds from heaven, John combines in one the experiences of Gethsemani and Thabor: the agony and the ecstasy of Jesus. He does that for our sake. We need to know that precisely at the moment we feel most helpless and abandoned: that’s when God is most intensely with us. When we are aware only of the depths of our weakness; it’s then that God powerfully raises us up.
The Stoic philosophers of old taught that when trouble and distress come our way, we should simply endure them. The Christian way is quite different from that. In all such circumstances we are to turn for inspiration, help and support by looking to Jesus, and especially to Jesus on the Cross.
What do we see there? The Son of God, hanging between heaven and earth, bringing God to us, and us to God. He is God Incarnate, and his arms are open to embrace the whole world in mercy and forgiveness. In Jesus on the Cross we see the final proof, the perfect image of God’s love. God loved us so much that he gave his only Son for us. And in Jesus the man we see our proper response: offering perfect love for his heavenly Father, perfect obedience, perfect glory.
So St. John the Baptist urges us: behold, gaze upon, the Lamb of God. Pilate echoed his words. Behold the man, he said: behold yourself in him; behold wretchedness and misery, and see them transformed into the image of divine beauty. After recounting the death of Jesus, John quotes words of the Prophet Zechariah: They will look on the one they have pieced. In that look, if it be with faith and love, he would say, they will find life.
So in his Prologue, John the Witness, the Apostle, cries out We have seen his glory. So on Easter Day he records Jesus appearing to his disciples, showing them his hands and his side. They saw him, the Lord, says John, and they were glad.