Before we get into the middle section of John 12, I want to refer you to a web page that beautifully continues the wonders of Pentecost, which we just celebrated throughout the world. Some of you remember the heart relationship we had with Rosalind Moss (a late-in-life convert to the Catholic Church from Judaism via Protestant Evangelicalism) during the summer Bible Study led by Jan Steckler a few years ago. Since then, Rosalind has been on a fascinating path, leading to the establishment of a community of sisters (using the Rule of St. Benedict) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is now Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God and her community’s website is www.motherofisraelshope.org/ . If you click on Newsletters, you will be able to read her recent letter pertaining to Pentecost, from a very Jewish perspective, as well as see pictures of the community, toward the end of the letter.
John 12:12-23 centers on the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the event we celebrate every Palm Sunday. You might want again to read the accounts of this in the synoptic gospels, and compare them: Matthew 21:4-9; Mark 11:7-10; and Luke 19:35-38. Three times a year the Jewish people traveled to Jerusalem for the great feasts of Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost. Even Gentiles who were drawn to the faith would come from near and far to celebrate these feasts with God’s people (see verse 20, and also Acts 8:27). The palm branches were quite significant during this particular event of the triumphal entry of Jesus. Such branches were used in Leviticus 23:40 and II Maccabees 10:6-7 with important meanings. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that “the palm, since it retains its freshness, signifies victory,” and the ancient Greco-Roman world in general recognized this significance of the palm. Looking forward, St. Thomas mentions Revelation 7:9, where the holy martyrs are seen carrying palm branches as they worship God in heaven, all of them rejoicing over the Lamb’s victory.
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This cry refers to Psalm 118:22-29. This entire Psalm should be reread by all who are studying John 12. It is truly awesome! But as we reference its use in the gospels we see that there is some immediate sorrow mixed with the rejoicing before Jesus’ Passion. St. Luke mentions Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in two passages closely aligned with the verses we are studying: Luke 19:41-44 and Luke 13:34-35. This latter reference is the basis for our response in the Holy Mass liturgy; we say it together because of Jesus’ promise that we will “see Him” when we say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” according to this verse in the gospel of Luke. The Catholic Church holds fast to this promise, entering into the entire history of God’s people, and underscoring the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist at the same time.
Those who were shouting their hosannas in John 12 still expected Jesus to be their worldly conqueror, a King of Israel whom they wanted to see overthrow Roman rule for them. But, what kind of Messiah was he, really? The actual way that he chose to enter the city should have given them an unmistakable clue: coming in on a young ass, and not a war horse, was a fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah, chapter 9, verses 9 and 10 in particular. Zechariah was born about five and a half centuries before Christ was born, and may well have lived long enough to witness important victories of Greece over the Persians in 490 and 480BC, the New American Standard Bible tells us. Zechariah was a prophet of the coming Kingdom of God, and even Greece is mentioned in 9:13. He makes it very clear that when the Kingdom arrives, the king will be “humble and riding on an ass.”
And this inferred reference to the Greeks in the fulfilling of Zechariah’s prophecy, we see in John 12:20-23. “Sir, we wish to see Jesus…”: this approach to the Messiah on the part of the Gentile world brought about the watershed moment in Jesus’ public ministry. Now that the Greeks themselves were seeking him, he knew his hour had come, the beginning of his Passion had arrived, the salvation of the whole world was now at hand.
I hope you take the time to actually look up some of the verses I referenced above, because it will make the study a rich and memorable one. Next Friday, the last week before our June 5 first Wednesday book study on the ferry, I’ll have some things for you to think about in John 12:24-50. Shalom, JC