The Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]
Jeremiah 31:31-34 ─ Hebrews 5:7-9 ─ John 12:20-33
March 25, 2012
“Amen, amen, I say to you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat.” [John 12:24]
He doesn’t seem to answer them. Did you notice that? They asked Jesus a question, and the answer He gives doesn’t seem to correspond at all! Has this ever happened in your prayer life? Have you ever gotten mad at God because you ask Him what seems like a simple question, and He either: (A) doesn’t answer; or (B) gives an answer that seems off in left field? If so, today’s Gospel passage has something to show you.
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Actually, Jesus does answer their question. They’re Greeks—foreigners—who are in the Holy Land for Passover. Their request is simple: they want to see Jesus. Most of our requests of God are simple. I’d be willing to bet that most of you don’t make elaborate requests of God, asking Him for a million dollars, or a new sports car, or a round-the-world cruise. We know better. We know that God doesn’t answer splashy, flashy prayers. And so we make simple requests, such as: “we would like to see Jesus.”
But these foreigners’ simple request doesn’t get them a simple answer. In reply to their simple request of six words—“we would like to see Jesus”—Jesus answers them with 118 words. He has a lot to say in response to their simple request. But it’s not just the length of what He says that overwhelms. Listen to what Jesus shows us in His words.
The word “hour” is the key to what Jesus is driving at. Jesus uses the word “hour” three times in these 118 words. He’s not using this word in the practical sense of “sixty minutes”. He’s speaking of His “hour” in the spiritual sense of focus; in the sense of goal; in the sense of His vocation on earth. Here the entire Gospel is reaching its point.
Jesus was sent into our world for only one reason. He was not sent down here to work miracles. His miracles only serve to prepare people to accept His vocation for who He is. He was not sent down here to teach. His teaching only serves to prepare His disciples to live His vocation in their lives. Jesus’ vocation is to die on the Cross: It was for this purpose that [Jesus] came to this hour. To see Jesus at this “hour” is to see Jesus for who He is.
These foreigners, when they ask to see Jesus, don’t realize what they’re asking. Most likely they’re simply asking for an audience with Jesus. It’s not that these foreigners are like the man born blind. It’s not their corneas or retinas causing the problem, but the crowds. Today’s Gospel passage is from the twelfth chapter of John, and this event took place right after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, just days before His Death. Jesus was now well-known—famous or infamous, depending upon your point of view—but surrounded by crowds nonetheless. So if you were a foreigner, you had to know someone who knew someone to get to Jesus. This sheds some light on why the Evangelist mentions that these foreigners chose Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, for help in getting to see Jesus.
Jesus reveals to these foreigners that He’s going to grant their request very soon. Jesus knows, though the foreigners don’t, that His death is only days away, and His death is the answer. The last two sentences of today’s Gospel passage show this. Jesus concludes His long response to them by declaring: “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.
Jesus’ death is the answer to their request. They may have been wanting an audience with Jesus. But Jesus wanted something else. Jesus wanted these foreigners to see Him for who He truly is: the God whose love is such that He would die in order to reconcile them with God His Father.
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God does not always answer our requests as we want. He does always answer our requests as He wants. Maybe that sounds obvious: God always answers our requests as He wants. But what’s even more obvious, the older we grow, is that what we want and what God wants are too often not the same thing. In other words, our individual human will is not united with God’s will. This is where spiritual and moral growth take place in a Christian’s life: in us answering, in our heart of hearts, the rhetorical question, “Is our prayer about getting God to agree with what we want, or is our prayer a means by which to see into God’s Will, and to grow into it?”
On the Cross, Jesus draws everyone to Himself. God wants everyone to see Him for who He is, and nowhere is it more clear who He is then when Jesus is lifted up from the earth. But God never over-rides human free will. In his fallen human nature, man may have weak and sinful freedom. But even in weakness, man is still free. God draws everyone to Himself, like a current drawing objects downstream. But each of us is free to swim against the current if we will to do so.
In the Cross, your individual, fallen human will conforms to God’s divine will. You have to want to be there. You have to want to be with Jesus in the Hour that is coming soon: in that very moment of sacrificing the self, which gives us the chance to love as God loves.