Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year B

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Donald X. Burt, O.S.A.
(1929 – 2014)

Readings
Jer 31: 31-34
Ps 51: 3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Heb 5: 7-9
Jn 12: 20-33

It was the last week of Jesus’ life. Some Greek Gentiles, sincere folks who had been attracted by the faith and practices of Judaism, had witnessed Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and wanted to hear more. They approached Philip, one of the few apostles who spoke Greek, and said: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus!”

Their words have been echoed ever since in the history of Christianity by all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances. “How easy life would be (we think) if only we could see Jesus!” And so:

…in time of doubt about faith we say: “Sir, I would like to see Jesus.”

…in time of pain when our body and mind aches without relief we say: “Sir, I would like to see Jesus.”

…in times of loss, when we have lost a loved one and feel very much alone, we say: “Sir, I would like to see Jesus.”

…when we come to die and are afraid, we say: “Sir, I would like to see Jesus.”

Indeed, the cry of the Greeks is a very human, a very reasonable request: In good times and bad, it is a fine thing to be able to see Jesus.

And Jesus comes. Jesus is present. Just as he was present to the apostles and to the Gentiles and to the Jews. All they had to do was to go where he was and open their eyes. But all too often they did not like what they saw and they turned away.

In the last week of his life, Jesus tried to prepare his friends for what was coming. He said: “My glory is coming but first I must go through my death! So too will it be for you. Your glory, the end of your doubts, the solution of your problems, the finding of your lost loves …all these great good things are coming, but only after you go through your death.

“Try as you might, you cannot hold onto anything in this life permanently. You are rushing towards your destiny of life without end, but to achieve it you must face the end of this life. When you try to hold onto any moment of this life, you stand in the way of your destiny. You will lose your whole life in the very effort of clutching any one moment.

“If you want to see me, you must follow me. And if you follow me you will someday be where I am.

“This time next week ‘Where I am’ will be the other side of death. There I will wait for you. And there finally and forever you can see me for what I am … the Lord God Almighty.” Having said that, Jesus went away to a secret place and hid himself. In six days he would die. He wanted to prepare himself for that terrible event.

It is not easy for any human to face death, especially at an early age. Jesus was like us in all things but sin, and it is no sin to fear death–but it is a sin to seek to avoid death by all means and at any cost. As the Letter to the Hebrews declares, Jesus “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.” Christ did not want to suffer, did not want to die–but even more, he wanted to do the will of his Father. And so he would not slip away under cover of night and flee northward to Galilee, there to live a quiet life under the radar of Romans and Jews and the ruler of this world. Those who wanted to see Jesus would not find him in a simple house on a quiet street in a pleasant neighborhood, tending to a garden, growing olives and apples and grapes, observing the Sabbath, enjoying holidays with his cousins, carefully cultivating a quiet, anonymous life. In jail, on the cross, in the tomb–there we will see Jesus. But only for a time. Then we will see him lifted up as the light of the world, seated at the right hand of the Father, calling to us to join him there and behold him forever. All of that is ours for the asking.

But for now, we must follow the Lord into the ground, join him as one of the grains of wheat scattered and buried, and wait to be lifted up along with his Church, the precious harvest of his obedient love.