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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Fifth Sunday in Lent


Today’s Gospel narrative is a little backwards because it all takes place after Jesus had entered Jerusalem to crowds shouting “Hosanna,” what we will remember as we observe Palm Sunday. In the passage today, we learn that people have come to the city from many parts of the world to celebrate Passover.

 

The surprise is the appearance of the Greeks. They are curious. They want to see Jesus. And who can blame them? Jesus has a pretty good track record up to this point. He cleansed the temple, turned water into wine, fed 5000, healed many people, and raised Lazarus from the dead. Hearing stories about Jesus was not enough. They needed more. So, they boldly approached one of his disciples with their request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” We learn nothing more about them. They come and go almost without notice but their entry into the story reveals something to Jesus: the hour has come.

 

Jesus could have stopped preaching against the hypocritical religious authorities. He could have just dumbed down his message and not reached out so daringly to the poor and the marginalized. He chose, instead, to speak and live his confrontational message of forgiveness, reconciliation, love and inclusion, the result of which would be his death on a cross, the punishment reserved for the worst of criminals. From his death would come resurrection and from resurrection a new community would form in his name; the grain of wheat would die and bear fruit and so we are here today.

 

The coming of the Greeks, as insignificant as it may seem, marks a turning point for Jesus. The term “Greeks” is meant to include all non-Jewish foreigners. Their arrival is the sign that his ministry would cast a wide net and be extended to everyone. The hour had come to launch that.

 

In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Toula Portokalos is a thirty-something single, dowdy reception hostess at the family-owned Greek diner, Dancing Zorba’s. “Nice Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life,” her father, Gus, tells her: “Marry a nice Greek boy, make babies, and feed everyone till the day we die.” 


One day a handsome, sensitive, guy named Ian Miller walks into the restaurant and Toula falls in love. Big problem. He is not a nice Greek boy and, for her father, he is “Mr. Wrong”—“ξεινος” (which in Greek means “stranger” or “outsider”), from which we get our word “zenophobic.” Gus Portokalos says there are two kinds of people—Greeks, and everyone who wishes they were Greek. In Jerusalem, there were only two kinds of people:  the Jews, a group of people held together by descent, language and culture, and Greeks—the rest of the world. 


A turning point in the movie occurs when Ian Miller demonstrates the depth of his love for Tula by taking instructions in the Greek Orthodox Church and is baptized, which to her family translates into his becoming one of them.


From her pew, Tula watches as Ian, dressed only in swim trunks is immersed three times in a large pool of water that covers him from head to toe, baptism in the tradition of the Orthodox Church, fragrant anointing oil trickling down his brow, the priest chanting in a language Ian cannot understand, and she turns to her brother Nick and says, “Any second now he's gonna look at me and say, ‘You're so not worth this.’ "


Why is the appearance of the Greeks just days before Jesus would die on a cross significant? Because in that moment something connects deeply and passionately within Jesus. It is the arrival of foreigners, of strangers that identifies the crucial hour for him. It was these Greeks who moved Jesus to proclaim the purpose of his entire mission—to draw all people, to attract everyone, no matter who they were, no matter what their lineage, gather them around him, and lift them up.


“ξεινος” Foreigner. Today we honor another stranger in the very land to which he brought the Good News of the Gospel. Patrick of Ireland whose life in Christ, began rather inauspiciously. Patrick was not a particularly observant Christian and as an adolescent he felt no real bond to the living faith. Later on in his life he was called by the Irish to be one of God’s reconcilers. He left his home, his family, and his friends to depart for Ireland. He came as an outsider.


“ξεινος” We are to witness the suffering of the Palestinian people—seen as foreigners, outsiders. Lest we forget, Jesus was from Palestine. We pray that there will be an end to the cruelty to which the Palestinian people have endured for so many months.


You know, in one way or another, we’re all foreigners, outsiders and one might also say that in some way we’re all a little strange. What is part of the fabric of all our lives, what we have in common with one another, is the ultimate human desire to be lifted up.  We long to be lifted up from the darkness, the sadness, the drudgery, the disappointments and heartbreaks, the failures, the violence, the chaos, the grief in  our lives and in our world.  


Next week we will see Jesus—entering Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosannas,” washing the feet of his disciples, betrayed by a friend, scourged and spit upon, denied by Peter, brutally nailed to a cross—and lifted up, and lifted up. No matter what our age, or gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or our faith or our doubts, or anything else that makes us who we are, don’t we all just want to be lifted up and drawn into the arms of the One who is Love? And, as we see Jesus giving up his life for us, we want to believe that we are so worth it. 

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