March 17-18, 2018 Fifth Sunday in Lent- Cycle B
"Sir, we would like to see Jesus. "
The story from John's Gospel we just heard takes place on Palm Sunday, after Jesus has been led triumphantly into Jerusalem. It is a tantalizingly terse story. Are the Greek speaking pilgrims just fascinated by Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem earlier in the day, or is their request rooted in a more profound desire to encounter Jesus? We never find out; nor do we really know from the story whether they ever get to see Jesus. It is not clear from the text whether Jesus' response is just to Philip and Andrew or if the Greek speaking pilgrims are there as well. That tells us pretty clearly that the author was not trying to blog about Jesus' day but rather meant for this story to be considered more deeply. Indeed, the author has given us a story that strikes a chord with us, 2000 years later.
For what true Christian does not have that question on their mind if not their lips? "I would like to see Jesus. Am I right? If I could just see Jesus, I could believe whole heartedly.
Steven Covey, in his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" tells a story about himself. He was riding on a New York subway train early one Sunday morning. There were only a few people in the car, and most of them were either reading a newspaper or book as he was, or napping. At one of the stops, a man got on with two young children, a boy and a girl. The man slumped down onto a seat across from Steven, while the two young children proceeded to chase one another up and down the car. As Steven watched them annoy the passengers with their loud yelling and occasional stepping on a passenger's foot, he thought, "Why doesnt their father control these unruly children." Finally, he couldn't stand it any more so he leaned over and said to the man, "Can't you do something about your children; they are annoying everyone in the car?" The man shook his head as if awakening from a dream, and realizing what Steven had said, replied, "You're right, I should. You see, we just came from a hospital room where their mother died, and I don't think they know how to deal with that. To tell you the truth, I haven't figured out how to deal with it either."
Steven goes on to relate the turn about in feeling that he had towards this family in hurt. The reality of the father and two children hadn't changed a bit, but because of Steven's change in attitude, he saw the reality in a completely different way, a better way. That is the point of today's Gospel. The truth is that seeing is not believing; believing is seeing.
Many in Israel in the time when Jesus lived there were looking for the Messiah. Yet only a few of the many who encountered Jesus of Nazareth saw the Messiah.
Jesus' response to Philip and Andrew (and maybe the Greek speaking pilgrims) can be interpreted on several levels. At the most obvious, it is a reference to his impending death and resurrection. It is one more example of the author of this Gospel demonstrating that Jesus is in complete control. This impending suffering and death are not being forced on Jesus; he is aware of all that is going on, and it is only by his will that it happens. This is quite a different picture of the paschal mystery we get in the other 3 Gospels, and certainly different from the picture that the author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us of a Jesus who, in the flesh, cries out in anguish.
But in the context of this story, Jesus' response is more than a casual reference to his suffering and death. The writer of the Gospel is specific in calling those seeking to see Jesus Greek speaking to indicate that they are not Israelites to whom the Messiah was sent. As long as Jesus walked this earth, only those who lived or visited that tiny part of the world had access to Jesus. Jesus reveals that it is only by dying, rising, and then sending his Spirit into the world will he become accessible to all the world, regardless of place or even time. Jesus came to save the whole of creation, not just the people of Israel 2000 years ago.
And even more deeply, Jesus is telling his disciples, which includes us, how we are to make it possible for those who want to see Christ, to see him no matter where or when they live, or what language they speak. In baptism we are called to die to ourselves so that we might rise to new life in Christ, becoming part of the body of Christ so he can be seen by those who seek him in every place and every age.
Jesus' response again reminds us that if we are looking for Christ in great theophanies or mind blowing miracles or apparitions of triumph or gross violations of the laws of science, we will never see him. Jesus reminds us that we are called to be the body of the Christ who suffers and dies before he rises in victory.
It is that Christ we are called to be the body of. We are to incarnate Christ in our struggles and pain and suffering and failure, and yes, in our deaths. We are to incarnate the Christ who humbled himself, came to serve, to forgive, to heal, and above all, to love.
So how do we see Christ in a way that prepares us to be the body of that Christ? Mother church is so good to us; she is about to give us just such an opportunity, the Triduum. The Triduum is an incredibly rich and profound encounter with Christ that takes 3 whole days to celebrate.
Fr. Walter, Fr. Paul, and I strongly urge you to celebrate the Triduum with us. To call oneself a Catholic and not celebrate the Triduum is like calling yourself a college basketball fan and not watching the Final Four. So come Holy Thursday evening at 7:30 PM over at St. Elizabeth's to experience the Christ who came to serve, not to be serve, and to pour himself out for us as we celebrate the washing of the apostles’ feet by Jesus and the institution of the Eucharist. At the end of mass we will bring the Holy Eucharist to St. Isidore's and start adoration, watching and praying with Christ as he asked his apostles to do after the Last Supper. At 11 PM we will close adoration with Night Prayer.
Join us again at 9 AM on Good Friday here at St. Isidore's to pray Morning Prayer as we mark the time Jesus was being questioned, and beaten, and condemned to death. Pray the Stations of the Cross at 4. Re-live the suffering and death, and forgiveness of Jesus as he hung dying on the cross at our Good Friday liturgy at 7:30 PM for the veneration of the Cross.
And wait with us on that day when the whole world held its breath as the King of Creation slept in the tomb, praying Morning Prayer with us at 9 AM Saturday back at St. Elizabeth's. We also bless any easter food you bring at that time.
Then at the Easter Vigil at 8:00 PM Saturday night, again at St. Elizabeth's gather with us around the Easter fire as we light the new Easter candle, as we exult in the singing of our salvation story, listen in darkness to the story of how we came to be a world, a human race, the chosen people of God. And sing the Alleliua with us for the first time in 40 days, as we bless the waters of the font and renew our baptismal vows, recalling how we die to self in the waters of baptism and rise again, in Christ, a new creation.
And so with our belief strengthened and nourished and inspired by this Triduum encounter with the real Christ, we may go forth into the world not just to see Christ but to be the body of that Christ here on earth. So we can be humble, and forgiving, and healing, and most of all loving, so that others may see Christ.