Much of our energy is devoted to being accepted, gaining praise, fitting in. This is never more self-evident as when young teens interact. Being a social outcast at that stage of development can be devastating, resulting in depression, antisocial actions and even suicide.
As we grow into confident adults, the desire for approval, a residue from adolescence, helps us adapt to the adult world, guiding the trades or schools we select, whom to date and befriend and where to live.
Playing on the urge to fit in, advertisers promote products and services to calm our fears of being criticized or shunned. Dye your gray hair. Buy a car endorsed by Matthew McConoughey. Kill the dandelions in your manicured lawn. Drink the beer that everyone tells you is superb. Enroll your child in the day care the mothers at the country club say is top notch.
The verses in John’s Gospel that precede today’s selection set the context for Jesus to cry out at the Jews who valued “fitting in.” Verse 44 of Chapter 12 reads, “…many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved human glory rather than the Glory of God.”
In response, Jesus immediately “cried out” with the hard truth of doing the will of his Father, not measuring up to human expectations. Doing the Father’s will brings light into a dark world. It leads to eternal life.
It also guarantees suffering. Jesus followed the will of his Father in directly challenging the standard-setters of his day…the Jewish establishment and the Roman empire. Both had been built and were sustained on the backs of the most vulnerable…the poor, the outcasts (lepers, blind, lame). Both represented sin in the world.
In responding to his Father’s will…experienced in moments of deep prayer…Jesus concluded his had no choice but to go to the real and symbolic center of sin (Jerusalem) and condemn the establishment.
This confrontation led to the Passion. This, and this only, led to the Resurrection, to new life.
What does the Father want from each of us? Pope Francis consistently reminds us our world is teetering on self-destruction. A worldwide pandemic has unmasked our vulnerability as a species. Our military might has failed to protect us from COVID-19. Our earth-destroying pollutions promise to kill more than COVID-!9. Poverty in the midst of plenty promises the same outcomes.
Jesus tells us he did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. Only his message of love for one another and all creation leads to the fullness of life.
Will we follow him to our Jerusalems? If we do, he tells us he will never abandon us and will give us what we need to live fully.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.