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29 Mar 2009

“‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.’”  (John 12:32)

In the name …

We have entered the Passiontide.  This is the last two weeks of Lent.  Its symbolism is the purple shrouds that now cover the images of Jesus in the sanctuary.  As we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ reputation has now spread far and wide.  Jesus and His followers have come to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.  Jewish people from around the world would try and make the pilgrimage to the Holy City for this annual celebration.  Even people called “God-Fearers” would be a part of this great mass of people making their way to Jerusalem.  God-Fearers were non-Jews who were sympathetic to the faith.  And it seems that among this group, the ones John today calls “some Greeks,” there were people who had heard wondrous stories told of Jesus of Nazareth, and they seek Him out. 

When Jesus was a local celebrity in Galilee, the powers-that-be were not all that concerned.  But when Jesus is sought-out by converts from great distances away, and within the holy city of Jerusalem itself, this is when the religious and political leaders start to get nervous.  Have a pocket here and there of risky mortgages that can’t be paid, and few people take notice.  Have billions of dollars of these mortgages bundled together so that no one knows what they’re worth anymore, and suddenly the government takes a lot of interest.  Jesus and few fishermen in Galilee are just like the isolated home foreclosures – nobody cares, but Jesus being sought-out by “some Greeks” in the capital city of Jerusalem – now it’s time for trillion dollar bailouts.  Something has to be done.  The leaders may not know exactly what or recognize all the consequences of their actions, but something has to be done.

Jesus is no naïve dreamer.  As soon as He hears about the request of the God-Fearers, as soon as He realizes that His message is no longer confined to this little sect of Jewish people living in a remote corner of the Roman Empire, that citizens throughout the civilized world are responding to the gospel, Jesus at that moment knows His end is near.  Jesus knows that He must pass so that His ministry may continue.  He doesn’t run away from this reality.  He instead speaks of it as a sign of God’s glory.  He proclaims that when He is lifted-up on the cross “‘I will draw everyone to myself.’”  But even so, the physical agony of crucifixion cannot be ignored, not even by a man of Jesus’ faith.  “‘I am troubled now,’” says Jesus.  “‘Yet what should I say?  Father save me from this hour?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.’” (John 12:27)  With the simple request of the God-Fearers, Jesus senses the nearness of His death, and the combined glory and the agony that will accompany it.  He doesn’t want to die.  He’s troubled by the thought of all that crucifixion entails.  But He accepts it because Jesus knows that somehow His death can lead to our salvation. 

Jesus accepts His sacrifice, but before He can face the cross He must turn His face away from all except His closest followers.  And this is the reason for the purple shrouds of Passion Sunday.  They symbolize the absence of Christ out among the people of the world.  They’re a heavy presence in church because they tell us that Jesus was once forced into hiding (John 12:36), that people had had enough of Him.  And the shrouds are heavy too because they remind us that still today many in our world have had enough of Jesus.  He hasn’t abandoned them; they’ve left Him.  During these last couple of weeks of Lent, if you choose, pick-up your Bible and read from John’s Gospel where we have now left off.  Chapter 12 today speaks to us of Jesus going into hiding.  Chapter 13, if you choose to continue reading, begins what scholars have long called “The Book of Glory.”  These are the discourses of Jesus in the Upper Room alone with His disciples.  Jesus tells them plainly of who He is and what will follow.  But these discourses are told in seclusion.  All their beauty, all their wisdom and prophecy, all their hope and promise, all their answers, are shared with but a few.  This sad reality is depicted for us today by the starkness of our altar and the darkness of the shrouds.  The world won’t hear these words from Jesus; they’re spoken only to those who believe.  Not because of Jesus, but because of the world.

Jesus isn’t telling these mysteries in secret.  He’s not trying to keep them away from anyone.  He tried to share them with everyone.  He was pushed out of society.  He was compelled to make sure that at least His followers knew of these things before He died.  As we read last Sunday:  “‘The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light.’”  (John 3:19)  Darkness doesn’t have any substance.  There’s no stuff to darkness.  All darkness is is the absence of light.  Anything that is not of God, that excludes God, that’s darkness.  Even bad things don’t have to be darkness as long as God is there.  Sickness and death, even death by crucifixion, is not darkness if in them there is the light of God.  As we heard from many people at Wednesday night’s Lenten discussion, sometimes it’s during life’s most trying times that the light of God is at its brightest.  Darkness, on the other hand, can even be found in pleasant and exciting things if God is excluded from them, or if they become the reason why we exclude God. 

Jesus is asking something counter-intuitive of us.  He’s asking us to center on God rather than common gauges of success or failure, pleasure or pain.  Nothing is excluded from our lives.  We don’t only have to do church and nothing else, only love God and no one else, but all that we do and all who we love must include God. Likewise nothing that we suffer has to mean the absence of God.  Darkness is the absence of light; it’s not defined by life’s setbacks and tragedies.  If God is present, there is light.  This is the radical re-orientation Jesus speaks of today.  But he also says, “‘The light will be among you only a little while longer.  Walk while you have light …’” (12:35)  Passion Sunday is the stark reminder that faith is a gift; it’s not a given.  Before Lent runs out, come closer to Christ, and let us strive to share the light by our example with others because darkness is an unfortunate possibility for anybody, so say the shrouds.  Therefore, treasure the light we have in Christ because our faith means Jesus has invited us here into the Upper Room with Him and His closest followers where there is no darkness.  For this we pray in His name.  Amen. (+)


Fr. Randy Calvo


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