Scripture Text: John 12: 20-33 (Lent 5B)
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
We wish to see Jesus. Think about it. What does that mean? Would our lives or our faith or our image of God be different if we had actually laid eyes on Jesus? I think it’s interesting that those who wanted to see Jesus are Greeks. If they were Greeks, that was implying that they were not Jewish. They were not part of Jesus’ community. And to these ancient Greeks, “seeing” meant observing. “Theoros” was the word for spectator or “one who observes the vision.” These spectators were not just there. They weren’t just hanging around. They were intentionally sent. Think of them as ambassodors sent to consult and bring back the news. Being a spectator, a “seer”, meant being both a witness and a participant.
There is a story that is told of Anthony the Great, the fourth-century leader of Egyptian monasticism. A wise older monk and a young novice would journey each year into the desert to seek the wisdom of Anthony. Upon finding him, the monk would seek instruction from the great Anthony on the life of prayer, devotion to Jesus, and his understanding of the Scriptures. While the monk was asking all the questions the novice would simply stand quietly and take it all in.
The next year the well-worn monk and the young novice again went into the desert to find Anthony and seek his counsel. Again, the monk was full of questions, while the novice simply stood by without saying a word. This pattern was repeated year after year. Finally, Anthony said to the young novice, “Why do you come here? You come here year after year, yet you never ask any questions, you never desire my counsel, and you never seek my wisdom. Why do you come? Can you not speak?” The young novice spoke for the first time in the presence of the great saint. “It is enough just to see you. It is enough, for me just to see you.”
It is enough for us just to see Jesus. But it is more than just seeing with our eyes. We are spectators. We are participants. We are witnesses. In the Scripture passage, Jesus promised that as he was lifted up, as he was carried away from the hopelessness and despair of this world, he would draw all people to himself. All would see Jesus and finally have their thirst quenched by the Divine. But in order to be lifted up, the self that one has created must die away. No longer can there be an attachment to this world—to wealth, to pleasure, to the place that one has obtained for oneself in life. Those are meaningless. But God through Christ offers a life that will always quench our thirst and be a feast for our eyes—a life with the Divine forever walking with us, a life for which our true self thirsts, a life of seeing Jesus, being with Jesus, just as those Greeks desired.
The cross is the instrument through which we see Jesus. It is on the cross that Jesus becomes transparent, fully revealed. Seeing Jesus means that we see that vision of the world that God holds for us. And seeing Jesus also means that we see this world with all of its beauty and all of its horror. We see the way that God sees. We back away from ourselves and we see the big picture. We see what needs to be done. We finally see who we are. And the closer we get to the cross, the more transparent we also become, the more of ourselves is revealed to the world.
That is probably uncomfortable for most of us. Wouldn’t it be easier to stand back in the shadows and let all of this happen, maybe just quietly watch it? After all, Jesus did it for us, right? But that is not what this walk is about. That is not what we’re about. That is not what Jesus was about. And how, then, would you answer the question to come: “Were you there?” Malcolm Muggeridge once said that “the way of Love is the way of the Cross, and it is only through the cross that we come to the Resurrection. Because the son of man will be lifted up in glory, we will be gathered in, and we will see Jesus illumined by the light of God. In other words, when we finally get ourselves out of the way, when we step forward as spectators, participants, and witnesses, we WILL see Jesus. It means going all the way to the cross. We can’t stand back and just look. “Seeing” does not just happen with our eyes; “Seeing Jesus” is what we do with our heart.
Lent is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts but for realizing what we perhaps had not seen before. (Thomas Merton)
Grace and Peace,