They were married when he was 22 and she was 20. Coming from a small town they had known each other for years, although their courtship was not long. Six children and 58 years later, she has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, a disease which her father had carried. Life has changed for this couple and their twilight years are not what they had hoped for, yet they still love each other and their vows to each other remain strong. As the husband has said, “We promised ‘for better or for worse, in sickness and in health’ and this is just part of the vow. Caring for my wife is what God is asking of me.”
Sometimes we have those moments in our lives in which we believe God has been preparing us. They are not easy and yet they are a part of the whole commitment and those moments still hold the potential for great goodness and great love. Today in the Gospel, Jesus is facing that kind of moment. Let’s look at this more closely.
In the Gospel Jesus is facing into the reality of his impending death on the cross. His message and his mission are for all the people of the world, as is represented in the Greeks who want to meet him in the Gospel: he is not just here for the Jewish People. Jesus uses this occasion to talk about his coming “Hour”: “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.” Jesus is not simply giving a teaching with these words, he is talking about his actual life! He is the grain of wheat that must die to bring about fruit! As with the husband who quoted his marriage vow, he is talking about his actual, lived experience!! Nothing in the clouds here! Only the reality of life!
Jesus goes on to say, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” We usually think of Jesus as clear in his purpose and in control of most situations, yet here he is saying, “I am troubled now.” In the Letter to the Hebrews today, it was put more graphically when the reading says, “In those days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” Loud cries and tears!! Certainly, the writer of Hebrews is referring to the experience in the Garden of Gethsemani when Jesus cried out to his Father to take this death from him. We know that Jesus suffered such mental anguish that night that he actually sweat drops of blood! He was scared and feeling very alone.
But these loud cries and tears might also have come at other times in Jesus’ life when he struggled with some reality that he had to face. We don’t know, but might Jesus have cried out with tears when,
--his stepfather, Joseph, died?
--when he felt the painful rejection by the people of Nazareth, with whom he had grown up?
--when he was hit over and over again with the hostility of the Jewish leaders?
--when the disciples abandoned him?
--when Peter denied him?
Jesus was truly the Son of God and also the Son of Mary. He was fully divine, and fully human. It is a mystery of faith to understand how these two natures worked together, yet we believe he was both. His divinity is revealed through his miracles and his resurrection from the dead; his humanity is experienced through the struggles and limitations that every human being goes through.
When we go to Jesus Christ in his Divinity, we are reaching out for his strength, his miraculous power, his gift of eternal life. When we go to Jesus in his humanity, we are reaching out for his understanding, his brotherhood with us, his compassion and patience. Can we see how we need Jesus, the Lord, as both Son of God and Son of Man? How much do we need both Natures of Jesus, for at times we need his strength, his power, his promise of redemption; yet, don’t we also need his understanding, his compassion, his patience?
How many of us, at this very moment, can echo with Jesus the words, “I am troubled now?” Perhaps we too have shared some ‘loud cries and tears’ when we also have needed both his Divine power and his human understanding?
Allow me to give an example. An adult son has become the primary caregiver to his elderly mother who still lives in her home. She has done well since Dad died 10 years ago, but her memory is slipping and her physically condition is getting weaker. Recently, he has gone to her home and found the stove on. Another time, she got lost while driving only a few blocks from her home. The adult son is unsure what he is to do, yet he knows he needs to do something. And so he can say with Jesus, “I am troubled, now.” Like Jesus the son knows that he must stay where he is and deal with the concerns that are before him. This is where he needs to be; this is where he is called to be. The adult son calls out to Christ for his Divine strength and wisdom; he calls out to Christ for his human understanding and compassion. And seeking both, he gives honor to his God and to his mother.
“Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it will bear much fruit.” For Jesus, the dying is the cross. For the adult son, the “dying” might be the choice to stay in the situation with his Mom and try to help. For Jesus, the “fruit” was the beginning of his young church that would carry his message to the ends of the earth. For the adult son, the “fruit” might be providing a safer and healthier environment for his mother.
The reading from Hebrews goes on to say, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” In other words, Jesus learned what it really meant to be obedient through his suffering. Here the true beauty of his obedience to the Heavenly Father became visible.
Obedience to God will cost us, and sometimes it is only in the obedience that we begin to see the beauty of life. This coming week, we will mark the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He was always a faithful and good priest, but when he was appointed the new archbishop of San Salvador, he was thrusted into a new reality and new awareness. Romero confronted tragic violence, brought to a white heat by the murder of the poor and their priests. He learned that evangelical obedience demands listening and acting: listening to the cries of the victims in the light of the Gospel, then acting in the name of God. He had to face this question: “Do I believe in God’s love for the poor and persecuted enough to risk everything?” Romero believed in that love and trusted in God. Archbishop Romero was martyred while celebrating Mass at a hospital chapel…while he celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus!!
So, we stand with Jesus Christ. We, too, are troubled at times and we cry out to God with tears. But we can turn to the Lord, both in his divinity when we need his power and strength; and in his humanity when we need Christ’s understanding and compassion. So, we stand in those troubled moments, knowing that God is with us and we will learn obedience to the Lord through the cross.