John 12:20-33
Passion Paradox
 by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus."  Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen, I say to you , unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.  The Father will honor whoever serves me.

"I am troubled now.  Yet what should I say?  'Father, save me from this hour'?  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name."  Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it and will glorify it again."  The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, "An angel has spoken to him."  Jesus answered and said, "This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.  Now is the time of judgment on this world; Now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."  He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

In this last Sunday Gospel before the beginning of Holy Week.  Christ combines in a powerful and seemingly paradoxical way his humble suffering and his overwhelming glory.

In this moment, responding to the desire of certain Greeks to see him, even though they stand outside of Israel's promises, he calls out to his disciples and to the Father both that he is "troubled" and that, in him, the Father will be "glorified."  He talks about losing life and also preserving it for eternal life.  Not only does he speak in these contraries of death and glory, but he also explicitly connects them.

Nowhere is this more evident than in his final words this Sunday: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."  Here, he simultaneously refers to the cross as the instrument of his death and the instrument of his glory.  Both literally and figuratively, the cross is his exaltation.

From this Sunday on, the church will place this strange exaltation of Jesus during his Passion before our eyes, and we will consider this beautiful paradox of humility and glorification as though present to us again.  We will watch Christ ride meekly into Jerusalem, accompanied by the fickle crowds that would later betray him, and yet, in the midst of it, they will rightly cry out, "Hosanna to the son of David!"  We will watch him bow down and wash the feet of his apostles, and in so doing cleanse them, make them his priests, and give them a mission far more noble than any man could ever deserve.  We will watch him bow down to the ground of Gethsemane in agony so that the whole world, weighed down by sin and futility, can stand up again.

He will hand himself over to captivity so that his followers, and us, can walk free.  He will willingly receive the insults and derision of the Sanhedrin, Herod, the Roman soldiers and the crowd, so that the mocking hatred of Satan can no longer condemn us.  He will take the burden of execution on his shoulders so it no longer sinks into ours.  He will offer his hands to be pinned in place so that our strengthened hands can rise again in the prayer of friendship with God.  He will die so that we can live.  He will descend into the earth so that we can rise into heaven.

This is the meaning of the paradox.  Christ's humiliation is his victory.  Our salvation, bought with his self-emptying, is his great vindication and triumph.  He glorifies the Father with his perfect, loving obedience, and that obedience, which sees him fall into the earth dead, sprouts forth in the new life of all the faithful, who themselves can now receive a share in God's own life and glory.  The one who was not afraid to lose his life, to lay it down for the Father and for us, has not just received his own eternal life, but eternal life for all the millions and millions of souls who would turn to receive it from him.

For this reason, the early church hailed the cross as a royal standard, a jeweled throne and our only hope.  That sign, which in the ancient world stood for final despair, has become for us the sign we make every time we pray or bless.  The unexpected glory of the cross shows us that, in Christ, all our defeats can become his victory, and that there is nothing to fear in the end.

If that truth takes deeper root in us over the coming weeks, then it will have been a good Lent indeed.