St Stephen Lewisham
3rd April 2012
‘Now the hour has come’
St John, in his Gospel, tells us that ‘among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip… and put this request to him, "Sir, we should like to see Jesus". Philip went to Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:
"Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’.
That meeting, between Jesus and the Greeks’ probably happened on the Tuesday of Holy Week. That’s unimportant. What matters is that Jesus said ‘now’ with such emphasis – not like when we say ‘now, where did I leave my spectacles?’ or ‘now, what’s next?’ In such cases we use ‘now’ to get someone’s attention, or gain sliver of time whilst we try and remember something or make a decision.
No. When Jesus said that ‘Now’ he meant ‘The time has really come’ or ‘This is it!’ ‘What I’ve been expecting for a long time for has now, at last, happened, and I must respond to it’. What triggered off that ‘Now’ was Philip and Andrew coming and telling Jesus that those Greeks wanted to meet Him.
Up till then, most of Jesus’s earthly ministry had been directed by His Heavenly Father’s will towards His own chosen people, the Jews. Not exclusively, of course – he talked with, and ministered to non-Jews, such as the Syro-Phoenician woman and her sick daughter, or the Roman officer whose young servant was dying. He ate meals with tax-collectors and other outcasts, and even called Matthew (who was one of them) to be His Apostle; and twice, at least he spoke with the heretic Samaritans – whom the Jews considered the most complete drop-outs of all. But consistently, throughout His earthly ministry, He knew that it was His Father’s will that He should go to the Jews – the ‘Lost Sheep of the House of Israel’.
But he also had the belief in the back of His mind that Ministering to the Jews was only a first step. He knew that His Father’s will was that His earthly ministry should be something much greater – that He should become the Saviour of the World.
He realised early on that such a mission would inevitably involve suffering – perhaps even death itself. It was only too obvious, as John says in his Prologue, that, his own People (the Jews) didn’t recognize Him. But suddenly, in Holy Week, God’s will for Him started to unfold: Palm Sunday, the cleansing of the Temple; followed in quick succession by His betrayal, denial, crucifixion, death and entombment.
But in the very middle of this chain of events came that ‘Now’-moment: the Greeks asked to see Him, and that, he realized, was the signal that Stage One of His ministry (to the Jews) was being overtaken by Stage Two. Salvation now no longer depended on whether a person was a Jew and keeping the Law, but on recognizing and believing in Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life: Jews, Greeks, Gentiles, men, women and children regardless of race. In other words everything ‘came together’ (as we say) at that one ‘Now- moment’, which is made Him exclaim ‘Now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified’.
But that means that we, too, must all the time be prepared for God to confront us with our Now-moments, when he is calls us to make a change of direction – perhaps several changes. It doesn’t, of course, mean that God is calling us to stop ministering to ‘Our Own People’, that is, the ones who have already come to Christ – any more than He meant Jesus to stop having dealings with His fellow-Jews. We would be seriously failing if we stopped feeding them with the Bread of Life, in Sacrament and Word.
But we only have to ‘lift up our eyes’ (as Jesus told his disciples) to see that ‘the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few’. Look at those hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who, are coming to live in Lewisham, in those new flats and houses in Loampit Vale! It’s quite unrealistic to imagine that those newcomers will somehow ‘find their own way’ to Christ without help. They’ll be as much ‘strangers’ to us (and we to them) as the Greeks were to Philip and Andrew. It takes Apostles, like Andrew and Philip, and you and me, perhaps working in pairs, to ‘bring those strangers to Christ’.
Two things are certain. First, worthwhile things never happen if we just ‘sit back and hope for the best’. And secondly, progress always involves change of some sort, some of which may seem uncongenial. So, as we stand beside Jesus this Holy Week, let’s ask ourselves (as Jesus had to ask Himself) whether now may be The Time, and whether God intends us, you and I, to be the Philips and Andrews of Lewisham today. As St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.
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