As we advance toward Palm Sunday, we are confronted with the reality of a man facing his last days on earth knowing he had done all he could so that others might believe in his message, but all is not accepted.
A tiny rupture of light is recorded in John’s Gospel of this past Sunday, a little beam of happy success which several biblical scholars have said does not receive enough attention for its hope and promise. In the story, large crowds of people are entering Jerusalem for the Passover, a few days away.
Despite the cacophony of noise, the shouting and bellowing, the swell of human flesh and its sweat pressed against vendors and tents and animals, Jesus is reflective having just experienced his festive entrance into Jerusalem according to John. (This story is told in our liturgy before our commemoration of Palm Sunday when it actually happened afterward.) Suddenly, Philip and Andrew approach him with a request from some Greek festival participants if they could see Jesus. Philip and Andrew are the only two apostles with Greek names indicating they were probably Jewish Greeks or had been born and raised in a Greek settlement. They knew the Greek language and were amenable to the Greeks who approached them. They shout over the noise asking Jesus if the Greeks could see him.
That request is the shaft of light, the hopeful beam that starts penetrating these feeble early moments of the new faith. These Greeks, Gentiles, want to see Jesus. They want to learn more. No doubt they have been taken with the news of miracles, especially the recent raising of Lazarus to life. I think Jesus is momentarily taken back but happily so. Gentiles want to hear the Word? Not the Pharisees, Sadducees, High Priests? And they want to hear it now, he thinks, as I face a decimation of all I had worked for? The shaft of light, this new beam of hope cutting through the thickening plot to kill him, will widen in the days after the Resurrection when the apostles will teach the Gentiles, as well as the Jews.
For me, this story is a testament of how faith grows. It begins with curiosity and matures into a quest: “We want to meet Jesus,” say the Greeks. It is a story of springtime growth, seedling to flower. I picture these Greeks coming timidly to Jesus, eyes very wide, tentative smiles, hushed voices. A spokesman says, “we just want to meet you.” And then questions come like a waterfall, tumbling, exploding, hitting the rocks of arcane beliefs then settling into a calm stream of wonder, and then the grasping of his hand and the florid gratitude as they leave and climb back into their real lives savoring this memory. It is not recorded that Jesus actually met with these Greeks but I believe he did and John thought it was enough to record that they wanted to see him, foreshadowing the next part of the salvation story, the story of non-Jews accepting his teaching. Oh, that lucky little band of Greeks. They become a fertile field for St. Paul and the soon-to-be missionaries of the New Faith after Jesus rises from the dead.
This makes me think of the countless new catechumens who are accepted into the faith this coming Easter Vigil. I am always thrilled to witness the baptisms and confirmations of people who simply asked, “I want to see Jesus,” and began their journey toward realizing this several months ago. Each might have been a professional person caught in the vortex of profit and success, or the teacher, or the doctor, or the mechanic, or the line cook, or the grocery store cashier, and on and on, but it is someone who wants to meet Jesus. They wanted to learn more in order to know him more fully. They were guided to the parish series for instruction toward fulfillment of that desire. But they need you and me to accompany them like Philip and Andrew who accompanied that first band of Gentile Greeks.
Take time this week to pray for the new members of our faith who will be initiated during Easter Vigil Services. Their quest can be difficult if they do not have support of friends and family.
I hope you will watch any live streamed Easter Vigil Mass and join in prayers and support for those accepting the faith. Join in the prayer for their continued journey in learning more about Jesus and the richness of faith.
In preparation, read and reflect carefully on the Scriptures, all the events of the next two weeks. Pray to be led into a deeper love for your faith and do what you can to lead others in it.