The Consequence of Seeing the Christ

5th Sunday of Lent | YEAR B

Gospel Reading: John 12: 20-33

SOME Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.


Other Readings:  Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Hebrew 5:7-9


REFLECTION | HOMILY

FOR some months now we hear about Christians being persecuted in some parts of the world. Last February, we heard and read in the news about the 21 Egyptian Christians beheaded by the Islamic State. And as far as we know, the 21 martyrs—yes, they are martyrs—were just ordinary people working in Libya to support their family back home. They were executed not because they were fighting against I.S. in any way. As Pope Francis said: “They were killed ‘only because they confessed Christ.”

21-Egyptian-Martyrs-2015“It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants,” adds the Pope. “They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

For us living in this period, we came to know Jesus by reputation: those who formed us in the Christian faith told us about him 2000 years after he walked this earth. And that’s the thing—the amazing thing actually—the impact in our lives of knowing Jesus! These 21 ordinary people remained committed to their faith until the end. They could have renounced Christ to save themselves but they did not. Instead, their only words were: “Jesus, help me!” If the faith generated by knowing Jesus only by reputation can move people—ordinary people –to do acts of extraordinary bravery and commitment, what would it be like if we’re in the gospels, if we could see Christ face to face?

see jesus1Yes, just knowing things about Jesus is not enough; it is not what the Christian faith is all about. We want to know him. We want to love him. Hearing about him and believing what we have heard, ultimately, we wish to see Jesus. This longing is represented in the gospel reading today by the Greeks who came to Philip to tell him that they “wish to see Jesus.” In fact, this whole point of seeing Jesus; of knowing Christ is the main quest of the gospels. The authors of the gospels are challenging their readers or hearers to seek, to see, to know who Jesus really is and the true purpose of his ministry.

One say that the whole mission of Christ was that he should be seen; and be seen not just by the Jewish people, but the whole of the wider world which the Greeks in our gospel represent. And when we say Jesus should be seen, we are not talking about the first-century equivalent of being a news item; of being mentioned regularly in TMZ or Entertainment Tonight or being stalked by paparazzi. We do not long to see Jesus with the eyes of idle curiosity but with the eyes of faith; seeing him as the full revelation of a loving God; a God who loves us so much to the point of wanting to share our human weakness, share our pain in order to restore us. It is this vision of faith which saves us from our sins, and seeing God in eternity is the reward of salvation. I believe this is what made the 21 Egyptian Christian martyrs hold on to their faith; this is the consequence of seeing Jesus.

The challenge for us is the same. We need to see the authentic vision of Jesus and not just the Jesus that suits us. Unfortunately we often do this. We accept readily the vision of Jesus as an infant during Christmas or the vision of a resurrected Jesus in his glory but we tend to skip that vision of Jesus with the cross. But as we heard from last week, the cross is the symbol of God’s love and mercy towards us; that’s what we profess as an article of faith. The vision of Jesus on the cross, accepting the violence and willingly takes it upon himself as an act of love, of self-sacrifice; of total self-giving is the way God is able to carry out his saving act. In a very real way, the cross is the poison that becomes its own antidote. Jesus alludes to this, in a way, when he says, “…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” (Jn 12:24). Up to this point in the gospel, we usually hear Jesus saying “His hour had not yet come.” But when he hears that some Greeks wanted to see him; when the news that the world is ready to see him, at the end of today’s gospel, he now says: “The hour has come…” and it triggers the saving work of Christ: his passion and death.

see jesusThis Sunday, we are all invited to see Jesus; not just the vision of the infant or the glorified Jesus but the whole vision of Jesus, a vision that includes the vision of the Christ with the cross. Only in seeing this authentic vision of the Christ, can we accept the full consequence of being his followers. Yes Jesus is not physically present on earth. But we still see him through sacramental signs; his presence is still palpable in our midst, and yes, we still long to see him face to face. And as followers of the Christ, like the 21 Egyptian Christian martyrs, even this is promised to us; that the Jesus who was glorified on the cross, who was also raised from the dead, will draw all who long to see him to the fullness of happiness for all eternity in the vision of God our Father. ###

 

Measuring our Faith

3rd Sunday of Lent | YEAR B

Gospel: John 2: 13-25

SINCE the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.

At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.


Other Readings:
Exodus 20:1-17 or 20: 1-3, 7-8, 12-17 | 19: 8-11 (R. John 6:68c)| 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25


REFLECTION | HOMILY

ALL people have faith. Even atheists have faith. It’s just that their faith tells them that there is no God. If atheists really have no faith, then they would not care if others believe in God. They would not get offended if other people express their faith in God like praying or having chaplains in public schools, or recite the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of parliamentary sittings. I purposely use the word “faith” and not “belief” because faith is more than just believing on something. The main difference is that one can believe and still do nothing. We can all believe that climate change is real and still choose not to act. We can believe that refusing asylum to refugees is wrong and still do nothing to change this.

faith-doingBut with faith, it is both believing AND doing. Faith always moves us into action. As we move closer to Holy Week and Easter, we are being invited to reflect on our faith. We are encouraged to look at ourselves; to examine our lives; to measure our faith whether we live up to our identity as Christians—as Catholics, so we can be better, grow in God more deeply both as individuals and as a community.

We heard in today’s gospel the story of what we usually refer to as the “cleansing of the temple.” With a whip out of cords, Jesus drove the merchants out of the temple ground saying “my Father’s house is a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a den for thieves.” jesustemplemoneychangersThe disciples interpreted Jesus’ action as a sign of his faith—“Zeal for your house will devour me” (Ps 69:9). Faith compelled Jesus to act in righteous indignation–in anger. The very same faith that moved him to pity and mercy for the sinners, the sick and the suffering who asked for forgiveness and healing. For us, faith moves us to the path of discipleship, which, as noted by a dominican preacher, “at times may seem daunting and obscure, even difficult.” But as we heard before, God does not leave us without any help. God always accompany us in our journey. God gave us His WORD to guide us and help us in our way—both in the form of laws and stories or examples. In other words, God gave us the means to measure our faith so that we will know where we stand.

One of these means is the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, that we heard from the first reading. For the ancient Jews, the Ten Commandments provide a concise introduction and a summary to the laws that accompany the covenant they entered into with God in Mt Sinai. As Christians we also accept these commandments. Within them are separate commands about one’s conduct before God and neighbor. But as one scripture scholar said, “while we have all these separate commands, all of them are designed to secure and manifest one thing—loyalty to God.” All those who truly profess loyalty to God; all those who truly worship God according to the Decalogue commands will thereby treat other people in accordance with these commands. To do otherwise is to be disloyal to God. The same is true if we run the principle in the reverse direction. Those who are treating their neighbors according to the Decalogue are undoubtedly doing so because of their loyalty to God. So loving one’s neighbor is an act of obedience—being a loyal disciple by loving as God loves.

growing-faithIf we accept the logic or principle behind the Ten Commandments, we can truly say that one’s life cannot really be divided into the sacred and the social or secular. Each commandment is a sign of one’s loyalty to God and of one’s status as a member of the community. Our faith—that is, our belief and actions—should express the unity of the human and the divine within us because that is our very identity: Christians, Christ-like, from Christ, the second person of the Trinity who “is inseparably true God and true man” (CCC, 469).

However, our human history tells us—and this not just limited to us Christians—that we tend to separate our worship of God from our social responsibilities. How else can we explain the gap between professing loyalty to God and still commit wicked things against our fellow human beings and the rest of the created order? And for this reason, we need to examine our own attitudes and actions, especially during this period of Lent. In fact, starting this Sunday, our Elects, our candidates for Christian Initiation begin the period of, what we call in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), Scrutinies, a period of purification and enlightenment.

All of us here are encouraged to enter into the same period of purification and enlightenment. With humility, let us take the challenge of measuring ourselves; of measuring our faith. Let us ask how do we practice our faith? How committed are we to God and to the people who make up the Church—and not merely those we find in the external building, but all those who are the people of God? Finally, let us all pray to God: LORD, GIVE US FAITH. LORD, “INCREASE OUR FAITH” (Lk 17:5).