Human Glories

(3/27/19, Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine)

John 12:36-43

36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. 37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,

40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because[g] he saw his glory and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

Sermon

Good afternoon. I want to thank the Monsignor for inviting me to preach today. I’m just old enough to remember a time when a Protestant pastor wouldn’t have been invited to preach in a Catholic church, nor a Catholic priest in a Protestant church. But back then, we had enough people in our churches that we didn’t fully realize the need to work cooperatively, in worship and fellowship.


I’m new to Monmouth County—I moved here from Pittsburgh last July. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, but I’m glad to say that the members of the Freehold Clergy Association have really welcomed me. On the other hand, maybe they’re just being nice because they’re going to ask me to do more work next year.


In our reading today, the Gospel writer is wrestling with the question of why some people don’t believe—even if they’ve seen the signs that Jesus performed during his ministry. Remember, in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ miraculous deeds are called signs. Clearly some people, even some of the religious authorities believed what Jesus said, but they weren’t willing to confess it publicly. According to John, “they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.”


That’s a harsh condemnation. John is saying that some of the religious leaders understood that Jesus was the Messiah, but that they feared that they would lose their authority, their position in the religious power structure if they spoke out about the truth that they could plainly see. If this were just a condemnation of the religious authorities or large parts of the population of Judea, some 2,000 years ago, then that condemnation wouldn’t apply to us.

But it does!


And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we also love human glory.


We want to blame all sorts of human glory for all the empty spaces in our pews on Sunday mornings. We want to blame the people who chase after human glory in the form of youth sports on Sunday mornings. We want to blame the people who chase after human glory on Saturday nights and sleep in on Sunday mornings. We want to blame people who are busy shopping on Sunday mornings. We want to blame the secular culture, or some other version of the boogeyman.


We want to blame others, because then we don’t have to take a long hard look at ourselves. We don’t have to look at ourselves when we ask why our children or our grandchildren have left the church. But this is Lent; this is the season for looking within. And in this season, we have to acknowledge that we’re a part of this situation.


Before I left Pittsburgh, I decided to pay a visit to an old shopping center called Century III Mall. When it was completed in 1979, it was the third-largest mall in the country. It’s about the same size as Monmouth Mall, but a better comparison might be the old Seaview Square Mall, though Century III is still open. Barely.