Today’s readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

Picture this: a group of high-profile TikTok influencers contact you and ask you arrange for them to have a meeting with Jesus. “What an opportunity!” you might say. You have finally found the right occasion for Jesus to go global and to leave no doubt about his captivating wisdom.

You reckon that Jesus would be thrilled that you have finally found the right platform for him to attract more followers. But when you actually tell Jesus of the plan he ignores the request completely and goes into a passionate monologue about death.

Is he for real? What the heck is going on?

This is just what Jesus does in today’s gospel. A group of Greeks, epitomising logical reasoning and sound public debate, approach the disciples expressing their desire to meet Jesus. But rather than accepting their request, Jesus goes on to speak about being glorified (which for John the Evangelist is code for his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension) and about the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that it may produce abundant fruit.

By worldly standards, Jesus is simply naïve.

The countercultural testimony of the Church makes it an eloquent sign of Christ still at work in today’s world

Like the disciples, we often feel compelled to adopt the strategies of the corporate world. We fancy marketing Jesus as though he were the latest gizmo. We pounce on every opportunity to convince others with rational arguments and logical apologetics.

From the Holy See down to a newly formed prayer group, none of us is free from the temptation of grandiose evangelisation. Whether it is with this reflection on a Sunday newspaper or by adopting the latest trends in the celebration of mass, we want to have more recruits. As Church, we want to put up a face of a professional agency. We want to expand our operations. We want to dress to impress.

But the strategy of Jesus is of a different kind. He knows that, to quote biblical scholar Gerhard Lohfink “in order to change the world, God needs a real community”, one that is vivified by Jesus who freely lays down his life for it. It is this self-giving life that stimulates others to give their life, in turn, for others. No amount of rhetoric, no matter how articulate, and no technological prowess could make hearts more receptive to the Living Word, than a life that is given up for others.

With very good intentions and made more acute with the neoliberal consumerist world view, we might become obsessed with creating a Church that is more akin to a franchise that dispenses feel-good products than a flesh and blood community that struggles with the daily challenges but animated by love. This “cruciform love” is the countercultural testimony of the Church that makes it an eloquent sign of Christ still at work in today’s world.

The Mind of Pope Francis, by Massimo BorghesiThe Mind of Pope Francis, by Massimo Borghesi

Massimo Borghesi spends a considerable part of his book, The Mind of Pope Francis, unpacking a maxim attributed to Ignatius of Loyola and which is very close to the pontiff’s heart, “not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest – this is divine”. For Francis, this means not to think in grandiose terms, but “to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others”.

Of course, this is not to say that the Church ought not to think globally and engage with the public using contemporary means and idiom. Rather, what really draws souls to Christ are not the techniques of this world inspired by a commercialist world view and designed to exert power and influence, but his life and love wasted on the cross.

No amount of dialogue with the Greeks could quench their longing to know Christ as much as his giving his life for the whole world. Or, to use Jesus’s own words, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

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