At the wedding feast of Cana Jesus told his mother that his hour had not yet come. As he approaches his death on the Cross he reveals that his hour has come. What exactly is this “hour”? I post here a recent column of mine in answer to this question.
The “hour” of Jesus appears frequently in the Gospel of John, the first time in the passage you cite at the wedding feast of Cana. When Mary tells Jesus that the wine has run out he answers: “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). Clearly his “hour” does not refer to the manifestation of his divinity in general, since he will manifest it moments later when he works his first miracle, changing water into wine.
The Greek word used for hour in most of these passages is ora, which is properly translated as hour. Another word Jesus uses is kairos, meaning more exactly time. For example, Jesus tells his disciples “Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come” (Jn 7:8). Even though he uses a different word, it is clear that his meaning is very similar to that when he spoke to his mother at Cana.
Later in that same chapter, St John himself says: “So they sought to arrest him; but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come” (Jn 7:30). The same idea of no one arresting him because his hour had not yet come appears again in the next chapter (cf. Jn 8:20).
As his final Passover approaches and after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus reveals something of the content of his hour when he tells his disciples: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). A few lines later he clarifies it even further: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (Jn 12:27-28). So his hour involves his own glorification but at the same time some element of suffering.
Pope John Paul II comments on this passage: “With these words Jesus reveals the inner drama that is oppressing his soul in view of his approaching sacrifice. He has the possibility of asking the Father that this terrible trial might pass. On the other hand, he does not wish to flee from this painful destiny: ‘For this purpose I have come’. He has come to offer the sacrifice that will bring salvation to humanity” (Address, 14 Jan. 1998).
The aspect of suffering is further borne out when Jesus compares his own hour to that of a woman in labour: “When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (Jn 16:21). The hour of Jesus too involves pain but also new life. In his long priestly prayer in the Last Supper, Jesus repeats the idea of giving life. He says to the Father: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (Jn 17:1).
What do we glean from all this? That Jesus’ hour involves his glorification brought about by his painful death on the cross and his Resurrection, through which he gives eternal life to all mankind. It is the culmination, the fulfilment of the whole purpose of his becoming man: to redeem us by his death and Resurrection. “For this purpose I have come to this hour.”
But, paradoxically, Jesus’ hour is also the hour of his enemies. He says to the chief priests and captains of the temple when they come to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk 22:53). In this hour, which is so crucial for mankind, the forces of darkness, of evil, of Satan rally together to do battle with God and somehow try to thwart his plan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it dramatically: “It is precisely in the Passion, when the mercy of Christ is about to vanquish it, that sin most clearly manifests its violence and its many forms: unbelief, murderous hatred, shunning and mockery by the leaders and the people, Pilate’s cowardice and the cruelty of the soldiers, Judas’ betrayal – so bitter to Jesus, Peter’s denial and the disciples’ flight. However, at the very hour of darkness, the hour of the prince of this world, the sacrifice of Christ secretly becomes the source from which the forgiveness of our sins will pour forth inexhaustibly” (CCC 1851).
We give thanks to Jesus for going through with his hour to free us from our sins.