In St.John’s gospel, read these final days of Lent and into Easter, Jesus goes regularly to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feasts. For him the Jewish feasts are signs that say who he is and what he does.
For example, in Jerusalem Jesus heals a paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida on a Sabbath feast (Chapter 5); The Son does not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life. At the Passover (Chapter 6), Jesus teaches he is the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes. On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7-9) he reveals himself as the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, which celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration Jesus claims to be the true temple, dwelling among us and making God’s glory known.
The feasts are signs that what Jesus says and does is from God. “The Father is in me and I am in the Father,” he claims on the feasts.
But those listening to Jesus in Jerusalem are blind to the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, St. John’s Gospel says. They try to stone him and have him arrested. Instead of accepting him, Jerusalem rejects him. In today’s gospel, Jesus leaves Jerusalem and goes to a place across the Jordan where John baptized.
He will come back as a new sign. God will give a new sign, not in the temple or the worship that goes on there, but in One who is lifted up on a cross. John’s gospel, more than the others, finds glorious signs in the sufferings of Jesus. It’s so intent on finding God’s glory that its narrative of the passion of Jesus often seems to ignore what really happened.
The soldiers who come to arrest Jesus in the garden fall to the ground before him. Pilate shrinks before him on the judgment seat, Jesus speaks calmly, majestically from the cross. Realists that we are, We find it hard to accept suffering revealing God’s glory and power. We find it hard to see glory in someone suffering and dying on a cross..
We’re finding it hard to see anything but absurdity in the pandemic we’re experiencing now. That’s why John’s Gospel may be an important guide today. “Look for the signs,” it says. If we believe God is with us, there are signs of glory and a promise of resurrection even in suffering and death.
Pope Francis’ most important response to the pandemic took place a few days ago when he walked all alone on a rainy night into St. Peter’s square and approached an ancient crucifix there and asked for wisdom and strength. The world is caught in a storm, like the disciples caught in their boat at sea, he said. We need to know you are not asleep.
Lead me on, O Lord,
through your holy signs, especially the sign of your Cross.
Through the One lifted up, show me the glory I don’t see.