In the Lectionary

March 21, Lent 5B (Hebrews 5:5–10; John 12:20–33)

In ancient Israel, priests were the gates through which God poured mercy.

It’s such a poignant request the Greeks make. “Sir,” they begin. So polite, even deferential. “We wish to see Jesus.” I have heard that these words are emblazoned on the interior of many pulpits, though I’ve never stepped into one where this is so. They are supposed to remind the preacher that whatever else they do, the call to give the gospel to the people is paramount. Whatever words we speak, they must echo and amplify the Word.

This responsibility is complicated by the reality that Jesus often does not meet expectations. The Greeks come looking for a glimpse of a man worthy of praise and adulation, and he immediately begins ranting about glory turned upside down. Rather than be raised on a pedestal, this Jesus drops an esoteric hint that he will instead be raised on a cross. When I hear those words—we wish to see Jesus—I can’t help but wonder if the desire falters when we see him for what he is: the Son of Man with a troubled soul and an ardent wish to opt out of his mission.

Meanwhile, the writer of Hebrews exults in Christ the High Priest. I have some mixed associations with the phrase “high priest.” I picture a humorless man cloaked in costly vestments, droning on in a language I don’t understand. I once began an official discernment process to become an Episcopal priest. The problem was I could not imagine it. If I closed my eyes and tried to see myself as a priest, I saw nothing but the insides of my eyelids. So I jumped ship, seeking out a Christian community where I might be called a minister, a pastor, a preacher—anything but a priest.