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.”
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?
Yes, 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.
This 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. ###