A Series of Lenten Reflections: The Fifth Sunday in Lent
... At the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip... "Sir, we would like to see Jesus...." Jesus replied to them: "Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.... A wheat grain...if it dies, it will yield a rich harvest... — John 12
All preaching is a response to this request. We come to listen because we want to "see" Jesus, to know him and to believe. This is what people really ask of the Church. This is why we read our bible, meditate, serve the poor.
This request was made at a time of mounting tension; in fact, just before Jesus underwent his passion. The sequence of replies Jesus made to the request seems to be a series of strange disconnections or non-sequiturs. We do not read that Jesus answered: "Here I am" or "I am Jesus." We read instead a set of signs:
- now is the time for Jesus to achieve glory,
- like the grain of wheat, one must die to bear fruit, one must lose one's life to gain it,
- Jesus will be lifted up on the cross and will so bring people to believe,
- a voice from heaven, like thunder, says God is affirming Jesus as the Christ, revealing God.
This reply is a simple, short course in Christianity! It says Jesus is the revelation of God. It outlines the paschal mystery of death-resurrection. It guarantees suffering is not useless. It pits the cross of Christ against all evil, as the sign of salvation.
Jesus' response to those who desire to see him is to say that he will suffer and die, and that is the way he will achieve his glory and ours. He is in distress over it yet knows it is the way. By these same signs people will know his disciples.
Elsewhere Jesus says that those who do God's will will know God, that is will "see" God in his doctrine. Jesus did God's will and he learned obedience through suffering. What can be the connection between suffering and God's glory? Is it not true that humans can neither understand suffering nor would they choose it? That is exactly why it is capable of being the deepest act of adoration: it is not our will. It is an act of faith that God will make our suffering glorious. It is the greatest act of love, as anyone knows who has ever loved another. We do not see the immediate effect and that is why it requires faith. Indeed, we see God now by faith. St. Bernadette, when asked what faith is, replied: "Avoir la foi, c'est voir Dieu partout." To have faith means to see God everywhere even in suffering—perhaps especially in suffering because at the base of all sin is really the refusal to suffer (the refusal to put the other first). Instead, we grab, we kill, we hoard, we use other people. The list goes on and on. It is worth pondering this connection deeply, for Jesus' passion is related to his glory.
What is Jesus' glory? It is his perfect love, God's unconditionnal perfect love shown in this world and achieved in it by suffering the consequences of our hate. God's love in us must call us in some way to suffer rather than cause suffering, to lose our lives rather than destroy others. This is the root of non-violence. It is not a "martyr complex" but a willingness to suffer what love requires, that is, what God's glory requires.
If we would see Jesus, we must see him in the suffering brothers and sisters. If they would see Jesus they must see him in us. Who comes to me to see Jesus? How is he revealed in my life? What have I learned from suffering? Have I glorified God in it? or become self-centered?
We have scarcely begun, Jesus, to grasp the mystery of your life among us, the mystery of the grain of wheat. Give us your Holy Spirit by whom alone we can enter this way of love. Give courage, faith, patience to your followers. Help us to cast off that self-imposed suffering not of you and to suffer our share of your passion and let those who seek find you in us.