“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” John 5:1
“Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”
We continue our study of the Gospel of John, which study will be suspended during Lent so that we may focus on the specific themes of the season. We have two text for today: The first text is what happened right after Jesus had healed the son of the Nobleman of Capernaum at a distance. The second text is taken from the Gospel for Quinquagesima. With both texts the priority of Jerusalem is made clear. Jerusalem was the center of Israel and the center of meaning and hope in the Old Testament. The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jerusalem and Jerusalem was the center of Israel which was the center of creation and God’s loving attentiveness. But the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer the center of God’s attention. The meaning of the Temple, the promises, the desires, the hope concretized in her stones and architecture and her ceremonials and liturgies have been assumed, taken up into the life, the being, of Jesus the Messiah, the Saviour of the World. Or rather they always were in him, in the Son, because being in him is what made the Temple in Jerusalem the center of God’s loving attentiveness, because the Son — yesterday, today, and forever — the Son is the center of the Father’s loving attentiveness. But now the Temple in Jerusalem is a matter of what once was and is no more. Jesus said to the Samaritan Woman:
“Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.”
The Temple is a matter of history. Not of what is, not now today, because now today we live in the aftermath of the hour that Jesus spoke of and it is because of that that the Temple of Jerusalem which once was, is no more. Jesus’ hour has come and the substance, the true, the good, and the beautiful reality that belonged to Israel belongs to Jesus Christ, the Son of the God, the Son of Mary, the Word of the Father made Flesh.
“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” John 5:1
Jesus went up to Jerusalem because the gift of God that was meant to be a fount of his blessings to save the world, incarnated in the nation of Israel, in her story, her law, in the stones and the architecture of the Temple — that which was meant to bless the world had become instead an unholy, foul place of hatred and separation from the God. Israel, Jerusalem, and Temple had become a partition, a dividing wall, meant to keep out most of humanity as well as well as most other creatures said to be unclean. Jesus’ hour was approaching and he went up to Jerusalem as the Messiah of Israel as well as the Saviour of the World be abolished the division in his own flesh. St Paul writes to the Ephesians that through his death upon the cross Jesus had taken Israel’s mission upon himself and restored the unity of humanity:
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” Ephesians 2:11-15
Paul was alluding to a well known piece of the narrative of the crucifixion and death of our Lord on the Cross. There was a linen curtain woven of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn hanging in the Temple to shield the Holiest of Holies from sight. The Church understood this linen curtain to represent the partition, the division, not only between Israel and the rest of humanity, but the division, the disorder, brokenness, the disaffection that isolates us from our Creator. And the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the actual event that declares the end of that division at the very moment of his death:
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent…” (Matthew 27:51)
You see why Jesus had to go up to Jerusalem. He had to be at the heart of Israel, the heart of the City of David to finish the mission of his Incarnation. In Lent, just as Christians have done for two thousand years, we too, as Jesus’ companions, will travel to the heart of the City of David where he gave his life for the life of the whole world.
The Greeks had a word called “parousia.” Ousios appears in the Creed and it is translated as “substance,” as when we declare that Jesus is “one substance with the Father.” The word parousia means present, or presence, or even Real Presence, the presence of the really real. Parousia was a technical term used in antiquity to denote arrival of the Emperor and so in memory of Nero’s visit to the city of Corinth coins were struck with the legend, “Adventus Augusti Corinth.” The Greek word parousia is equivalent to the Latin word “adventus” which means advent, arrival, or as I said, “real presence.”
“After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”
The really real presence of the God of Israel was expected to be in the Temple in Jerusalem in the days of our Lord’s fleshly ministry. Jesus went up to Jerusalem like all the other Jews of his day. But when Jesus went up to Jerusalem there was nothing ordinary about it. God went up to Jerusalem, the Son of the Father made flesh, went up to render perfected human worship to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We know that his going up to Jerusalem was a parousia, the arrival of the Emperor of the Universe. We also know when Jesus was in the Temple in Jerusalem the really real presence of the God of Israel was there in the flesh. This Lent God is our traveling companion. You can expect this to be an adventure.
One last thing: I have made much of the three narratives reaping and sowing that we have looked at over the last three weeks. The narrative from John chapter 4 as well as the Gospel for Septuagesima instructs us that from start to finish, working at any stage in God’s vineyard or the wheat field, we all become co-workers with God. Furthermore Jesus does not cease to remind us that it is the case that most of the time ordinarily speaking the one who reaps has entered at the end of a very long season of labor and growth. Last week the whole matter was reversed with the Gospel for Sexagesima as our focus was not upon the workers but the fruit itself. The focus last week was upon what Jesus calls the good ground, which he says is an “honest and good heart” of a person who receives his life giving word and patiently waits for the harvest. But as we move along through the Gospel we will see that the harvest Jesus has in mind, the fruit of an “honest and good heart” that receives the Word of the Father is what we call the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. By faith, we believe on Jesus the Word of the Father made flesh, true God and true man and all that he has revealed to the Holy Catholic Church. By hope our desires are anchored in God’s finality for our life and his finality for the life of the whole creation. By charity, we love God above all things and we love our neighbor as ourselves for love of God.
The seed of the Word of God finding good ground will flourish beyond what we may ordinarily expect: one seed will die and bring into being thousands of seeds. We are all like the grapes or the kernels of wheat on the threshing floor. Grapes from the vineyard are trodden down and their blood mingled into one drink and many grains of wheat are ground down and become one in a loaf of bread. Analogously the Church’s calls us to present our selves, our souls, and our bodies to be made one sacrifice; one sacrifice that joins ourselves, our souls and our bodies to the Woman of Samaria and her village, one sacrifice that joins our selves, our souls, and our bodies to the Nobleman of Capernaum and his whole family; one that joins to the faith of the blind man of Jericho, we all become one sacrifice that is taken up into Jesus’ sacrifice for the life of the whole world.