Encountering Jesus deeply in our hearts and souls

Father John A. Kiley

Jesus Christ was applauded by throngs in life and jeered by crowds at death. And the crowds were extensive. “Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan .” (Mt.4:25). “And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him (Mt.2:15).” “Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd (Lk.7:11).” “After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick (Jn.6:1-2).” Recall as well that while all four evangelists uniquely record the feeding of five thousand men (and let’s not forget the uncounted “women and children”), a nearly as impressive group of four thousand were fed on a separate occasion as recalled by St. Mark.
Not everyone pursuing Jesus was a fan: “Then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders (Mk.14:43).” And again: “But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him.”(Mk.15:11-13).
For weal or woe, Jesus was extremely popular over the length and breadth of Palestine. And it was not just hometown Jews that accorded Jesus celebrity status. In this coming Sunday’s Gospel account from St. John, the evangelist recalls that Jews from the diaspora, Greek-speaking Jews from around the Mediterranean world, approached the disciples and requested an interview with the Master. “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?” (Jn.12:20). Now, Jesus could certainly have gone over to the pilgrims, inquired about their homes, their families, their occupations and their travels. But no! Rather Jesus goes to the heart of the matter and introduces his visitors to the essential Jesus, the Crucified Son of God!
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (Jn.12:20),” Jesus starts out with seeming optimism. But then the Master gets down to the core of the Christian message: “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 (Jn.12:22).” Jesus’ true glory, and the glory of anyone of his followers, will be the ability to sacrifice oneself for the glory of God and the good of mankind. And this destiny will be tough, both for Jesus and for his followers: ““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 (Jn.12:24).” So anyone who would like to “see Jesus,” anyone, Jew or Greek, who would like to appreciate Jesus, must understand that self-sacrifice is at the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus graphically concludes, “’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 (Jn.12:33).” So if anyone would like to “see Jesus,” that is, meet Jesus, they must meet him on the Cross.
Jesus was certainly popular in his day. Recall the crowds being so great at one point that a man had to be lowered into Jesus’ presence through a hole in the roof! And Jesus was certainly willing to present himself before the multitudes as a healer, a teacher, an exorcist, indeed a miracle worker. Yet Jesus also knew that he would become, in the words of this Sunday’s letter to the Hebrews, “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” only if he could convince his followers that they too must endure the “loud cries and tears” of this life while filled with a hope for the next life. After all, “Son though he was,” Hebrews continues, “he learned obedience in the school of suffering.” Christ’s disciples should expect no different. Hopeful endurance in the midst of life’s challenges will distinguish Jesus’ true followers from Jesus’ mere enthusiasts. As Jeremiah wisely predicts in Sunday’s first reading: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.” Those who would “see Jesus” must encounter him, not in the midst of fawning throngs, but deeply within their souls, within their hearts, especially during challenging times.