Today’s reading is John 12:1-26 (NABRE):
The Anointing at Bethany.
1 Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. 3 Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, 5 “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” 6 He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. 7 So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
9 [The] large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, 11 because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.
The Entry into Jerusalem. 12 On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13 they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
[even] the king of Israel.”
14 Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written:
15 “Fear no more, O daughter Zion;
see, your king comes, seated upon an ass’s colt.”
16 His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus had been glorified they remembered that these things were written about him and that they had done this for him. 17 So the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from death continued to testify. 18 This was [also] why the crowd went to meet him, because they heard that he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.”
The Coming of Jesus’ Hour.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who had come up to worship at the feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.
Today’s passage features the first-ever Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem about a week before Passover and his crucifixion. Palm Sunday is the beginning of what Christians now call Holy Week. Today’s passage is another modest look forward, as we are not yet in Holy Week but rather, are still very much in the middle of Lent. What today’s passage allows us to look forward to is the promise of salvation that comes with Jesus’ crucifixion. The promise of salvation is universal. In the passage, it is suggested that salvation is not limited to Jews but rather, it is also extended to Gentiles, or the non-Jewish people. Today, universal salvation, according to Pope Saint John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio, means that salvation has the possibility of extending beyond “those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church.” For those people who do not believe in Christ and have not entered the Church, salvation is still “accessible by virtue of a grace [which] comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit” (Pope Saint John Paul II Redemptoris Missio).
How does today’s passage suggest that salvation is universal? The Pharisees use the phrase “the whole world” (John 12:19) as a way to hyperbolize the vast number of Jews who are believing in and following Jesus after the sign in which he raises Lazarus from the dead. John, the author of this Gospel, uses the same phrase, “the whole world,” to allude to the universality of the salvation that Jesus provides.
Does Jesus provide salvation through his earthly life and ministry? No. Well, at least not fully. We must wait “for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23) through his crucifixion. We must wait for Jesus’ earthly life and ministry to culminate in the death that precedes his resurrection.
In the passage, who mediates access to Jesus, and the salvation that he provides, for the non-Jewish people? It is important to note that “Greek,” as used in the passage, does not mean “Greek” in the nationalistic sense. Rather, “Greek,” as used in the passage, implies that the people who have come to see Jesus are Gentiles, non-Jewish people. Jesus’ disciples, Philip and Andrew, are the ones who mediate the Gentiles’ access to Jesus. This mediation being the responsibility of Philip and Andrew can be explained, at least partly, by logistics. Being from Bethsaida in Galilee, these men are bilingual, capable of speaking and understanding the Greek language of the Gentiles.
What does Palm Sunday have to do with universal salvation? According to the footnotes in the NABRE translation of the Bible in which I read today’s passage, palm branches are “used to welcome great conquerors.” Appropriately, then, the crowds of Jerusalem welcome Jesus with palm branches, for he is the conqueror of sin. Jesus conquers our sins through his crucifixion, the same way through which he provides salvation. In fact, in Christianity, salvation means for the soul to be saved from sins and from death. Each Palm Sunday, when several Christian denominations receive physical palm branches at their worship services, we are reminded of the salvation that Jesus provides us by conquering our sins through his crucifixion.
While there are still two weeks before Christians can give physical palm branches to their Christian and non-Christian friends on Palm Sunday (which I definitely encourage!), Christians can right now begin to give “spiritual palms,” to their Christian and non-Christian friends. Spiritual palms, like physical palms, ought to remind the recipient that Jesus conquers sin, that Jesus, through his crucifixion, offers universal salvation. What figurative palms can you give to Harvard’s campus this Lent? If you are a Christian, perhaps you can pray for your non-Christian friends, specifically that they enter into communication with the Holy Spirit in order to receive the Christ-derived grace that allows non-Christians access to salvation.
What qualifies you to give spiritual palms to Harvard’s campus? You speak Greek! Well, actually, you speak Harvard. You speak the language of this campus. Two of Jesus’ first disciples, Philip and Andrew, mediate the Gentiles’ access to Jesus, because they can speak Greek. So, too, can we, as Jesus’ disciples today, mediate our campus’ access to Jesus, and, by extension, to the universal salvation that Jesus provides, because we can speak Harvard.
Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Junior in Eliot House studying Human Evolutionary Biology.