Let’s step back a moment to recall the setting for this Gospel; maybe settle yourself into it. It is six days before Passover. We’re in Bethany, at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The three siblings are sharing hospitality with Jesus, his disciples and some other guests. We are reclining at the dinner table with them. Martha is busy in the kitchen with the many hostess’ pre-dinner tasks. Lazarus is keeping the conversation flowing among the guests hoping to keep they unaware of how late it is getting. Mary hesitantly approaches Jesus to sit at his feet. This is the occasion when Mary poured aromatic oil on the feet of Jesus and dried them with her long-flowing hair. (I wonder how long that sweet smell will linger in her hair.) Judas, the one who would later betray Jesus, muttered a snide remark (probably under his breath) about the wastefulness of such extravagance. (Remember, he was the one who had charge of the groups’ money bag.) Jesus was exasperated, he had had it with Judas. “Leave her alone. The poor you have always with you. Tonight you have me. Let her do this in anticipation of my burial.”
In his narrative, John moves to his abbreviated account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding a colt – the Palm Sunday narrative – that we will celebrate next weekend.
So, back to our dinner. The evening grows long, the dessert’s been served and the after dinner libation; chatter’s winding down. We become aware that a crowd is gathering out in the yard. Folks have heard Jesus is inside. They’re hoping, too, to see Lazarus. Word had spread that Jesus had recently raised him from the dead. Some guests approach Philip. (And, my goodness, talk about an unspoken chain of command!) The Greeks spoke to Philip: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Phillip spoke to Andrew, then Andrew with Phillip in tow, went and told Jesus. Jesus’ reaction did not disappoint. He must have raised their hopes. Sounds like he could have said: “Your timing is good.” Yes. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
The guests may have experienced a bit of puzzlement or some trepidation, when Jesus continued speaking: “Amen, I say to you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” But, hope must have risen up in them as Jesus continued: “But, if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Then hope bounces around on the seesaw of mystery as Jesus continues: “Whoever loves his life loses it; whoever hates life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
What IS this man talking about??? He closes the gap when He tells them: “Whoever serves me must follow me.” Now, that made sense. Of course, if you want to serve, you’ll be a follower. You’ll listen to every podcast, follow every eblast and purchase all their books. It only makes good sense if you want to absorb the flavor of your hero’s life.
John, the beloved disciple, changes gears at this point in his Gospel. In the retelling of his memories, John, in his tenderness for his intimate friend – recalls Jesus saying: “I am troubled now.” I wonder did Jesus pause at this point in time to ponder the source of his uneasiness? “I am troubled now.” He questions, “Yet what should I say? Father, save me from this hour?” Then, it is like he straightens himself up, thinking aloud: “Why should I ask the Father to save me from this? It was for this very purpose that I came to this hour.”
You could hear a pin drop. Is that thunder we hear in the distance; now it’s closer. Some say it’s the voice of an angel. Jesus speaks: “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. … When I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.” Over 2000 years later, from our side of the story, we know Jesus was indicating the kind of death he would die; and his resurrection. Our Easter! Our understanding of Jesus’ remark, and the events commemorated during Holy Week, will always be colored with an assurance of a good ending, of Easter and resurrection.
A few lines later in his Gospel John will remind us of Jesus’ promise, (similar of the words he had said to Judas). “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.”
At this point in my preparation, I took a break and turned to my Lenten booklet. This was the lesson God had planted there: A young girl was watching her father, a pastor, preparing his Sunday sermon. She knew she should keep quiet but curiosity won out. She asked: “Daddy, how do you know what to say?” “Why, God tells me,” her father replied. “Ohhhh, then why do you keep crossing things out??” Now, I love the techie computer function of “block, copy, cut, paste or save.” But it was time to stop trying to refine what I had on paper. So I looked to the Responsorial Psalm for a closing line: “Give me back the joy of your salvation, a willing spirit sustain in me.” The church says: AMEN.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
Today I wish you a happy Saint Benedict’s day. Benedict is the patron of a peaceful death – let us remember in particular all those who have died, or will die, during this time of pandemic. May they, and all the departed, rest in peace.
Prayer to St. Benedict: O, holy father Benedict, blessed by God both in grace and in name. Who, while standing in prayer, with your hands raised to heaven, most happily yielded your angelic spirit into the hands of your Creator, and promised zealously to defend against all the snares of the enemy, in the last struggle of death those who shall daily remind you of your glorious Father, this day and every day by your blessing that we may never be separated from our blessed Lord, from the society of yourself and all the blessed. Amen.
For information on the life of St. Benedict you may wish to refer to the Dialogues of St. Gregory, volume 2 https://www.osb.org/gen/greg/ For details about the circumstances that surrounded his death, refer especially to the final chapter on the aforementioned website.
Have a good week and we prepare to slide into Holy Week next Sunday.