By Father John P. Cush, STD
For the last two Sundays, we were reading from John’s Gospel, from chapters that were relatively early on in his Gospel. Many scripture scholars divide John’s Gospel into two sections, with chapters 1-11 being the Book of Signs and chapters 12-24 being the Book of Glory. In the first book, we see the Lord Jesus revealing gradually by his deeds and words that he is the Chosen Christ of God. Each of the signs he performs, from the wedding feast at Cana in the second chapter to the raising of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter, forces the people of Jesus’ day and each of us who read this Gospel to make a choice in our lives — either this man is who he is, the Christ, or he is a madman, a fraud, and a liar.
The second part of John’s Gospel is traditionally described as the Book of Glory, which is, at its essence, an extended passion narrative. The story of the last few days of the life of Christ. Today’s reading is taken from John’s twelfth chapter, a midway point between these two books. Some scripture and patristic scholars have described it as “the Book of Humiliation,” where the Incarnation of God humbles himself to wash the dirty, filthy feet of his disciples. And that is where we encounter Christ in today’s Gospel, right before the Last Supper. Note that the Lord Jesus is speaking not to his fellow Jews but to Greeks, foreigners — a sign that the Kingdom of God is meant for all those who, through Christ, are grafted on the House of Israel.
He tells them the truth about what will happen to him over the next few days — that he will suffer and die, and indeed, so too will all those who graft their vine onto his in this new Tree of Life in the Kingdom of God, which is so ready to burst forth in its abundant growth.
With this in mind, a question: How willing are we, in our daily lives, in our particular vocations, to speak to the “Greeks” of our days, women and men of good faith (or even of no faith) about the Christ of God, Jesus our Lord and his Way, which is truth and life?
How willing are we to suffer the embarrassment in our families, our work, our communities to describe the wonders that the Lord Christ has done for us? Do we realize that, in some circles in our modern age, if we are to speak of Christ, and if we are to live for Christ in all aspects of our lives, we will be called to be martyrs, to die to ourselves? In an essay released on April 10, 2019, entitled “The Church and the Scandal of Sexual Abuse,” Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI sagely notes:
“It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible. Today there are many people who humbly believe, suffer and
love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us. Today God also has His witnesses (martyres) in the world. We just have to be vigilant in order to see and hear them.
“The word martyr is taken from procedural law. In the trial against the devil, Jesus Christ is the first and actual witness for God, the first martyr, who has since been followed by countless others. “Today’s Church is more than ever a ‘Church of the Martyrs’ and thus a witness to the living God.”
If we are to be Christian in the world today, we will suffer daily martyrdoms. Most likely, our martyrdoms will not be physical but subtler. We see it played out in the last acceptable prejudice, anti-Catholicism, and in a broader sense, in this secularist society that pervades.
Still, we are called to engage with the “Greeks,” those who are searching for the Lord Christ in spirit and truth, knowing full well that our encounters may not go well. May the embarrassment, the awkwardness, the discomfort we might suffer never scare or deter us from speaking the truth of the suffering, dying, and yet risen Christ.
Readings for Fifth Sunday of Lent
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Father Cush is the Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, also in Rome.