Friday, March 23, 2012

We want to see Jesus

Fifth Sunday of Lent Year B

Some of you would have felt shocked entering church this evening (morning) and seeing (or rather not seeing) all the statues, holy pictures and crosses hidden behind purple veils. It all seems unnerving to a Catholic who is quite used to having his senses scintillated by the elaborate sacramental signs and symbols found in our churches. I guess, if you had a chance, some of you would even have walked up to me and demanded this – “I want to see Jesus.” My humble request to all of you is to be patient and to listen to this week’s catechesis at the end of mass. Suffice to say at this point that the veiling of the statues, holy pictures and crosses, an ancient custom of the Church, is a kind of fasting of the senses.

“We want to see Jesus” was also the request made by the Greeks to Philip who then conveyed it to Andrew in today’s gospel. Their request, however, (Thank God) was more benign. Who are these Greeks? Most likely the accolade here does not refer to their race or nationality. They were in fact Jews. But what set them apart from the Jews of Palestine at the time of Jesus was the lingua franca they used. Unlike the Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, these Hellenistic Jews used the common Greek tongue.

Jesus on hearing their request strangely launches into a monologue speech on a topic which seems entirely unconnected to the request of the Greeks who had simply wanted an audience. Well, at least on appearances. On the contrary, the words of Jesus were merely clarifying what he hoped the Greeks will see. The Greek speaking Jews who had come to Jerusalem on the occasion of the Passover wanted to have their curiosity sated. They must have heard of the fame of Jesus –news of his prowess at preaching, teaching, performing miracles would have travelled far and wide. But Jesus wanted them to ‘see’ beyond this shallow and superficial stereotyping. Jesus was more than just a charismatic teacher, healer or miracle worker. Jesus wanted them to see the true nature of his mission and its significance. In order to see Jesus, it was necessary for them to see the specter of the cross.

Jesus speaks of his Hour of Glory. This is the hour or the time that had been prophesied since the period of the Old Testament. In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the days that will come where God will establish a new covenant with his people. It would be a very different covenant from the covenants of the past. The covenants made with Noah, Abraham and Moses, which formed the basis of the Jewish way of life and belief, would pale in comparison with this new commandment. This covenant will not be written or sealed in a rainbow, the stars and stone tablets. These covenants were broken just like how the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments were shattered by Moses when he saw his people’s apostasy. This new covenant, however, will be written upon the hearts of the people and that no one can thereafter plead ignorance. In other words, the covenant will be communicated by God directly to his people through the voice of their conscience. But this law is not a new law. It is just that now the Holy Spirit will help us interiorise God’s ancient eternal law.

How will this take place? Where did the Spirit come from? The author of the letter to the Hebrews in the second reading provides the answer and we begin to see why Jesus speaks of this hour as the hour of glory. The gift of the Holy Spirit will ultimately be connected to the gift of life offered by the Son on the cross.

Coming back to Jesus’ speech in response to the Greeks’ request to see him, we now see that Jesus wanted to stress the gravity and the significance of the hour, the hour where he will have to lay down his life for the salvation of many, the hour where he will be raised up on the cross in public humiliation, but also the hour where he will be glorified by the Father for his faithfulness to the Father’s plan of salvation. On the eve of his passion and death, Jesus now went straight to the crux of the matter. He didn’t teach people any longer about how to live. He began to teach about death, especially his death. He told a parable of a seed to explain death and resurrection.

Lent is a season for learning about the meaning of Jesus’ death and how we shall die as Christians. Being Jesus’ disciples means not only to live according to his teaching but also to die according to his teaching. If we want Jesus to be our Saviour only for our life and deny his teaching about death we cannot participate in his resurrection. Jesus’ teaching about life is difficult. But his teaching about death is more difficult. This Lent I hope we struggle with his teaching about death because we wish to see Jesus. We can see Jesus through his death and through his teaching of death.

Some people understand Jesus’ death as the sacrifice of his life. He sacrificed his life to pay the price to save us from our guilt, sin, and death. But what puzzles many people is this – if the Father is truly loving, how could he sacrifice his only Son? The answer to this question lies in the way the gospel of John explains his death. According to John Jesus chose to die very willingly to glorify God rather than passively sacrificing his life. Jesus’ death is not passive sacrifice by his Father but his own willing choice to love people even unto his own death. In today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus’ own honest and desperate struggle in facing his death. Nevertheless, Jesus knew that God so loved this world, he was willing to obey God’s will to love God’s world and to die. Through his willing obedience he glorified God’s name.

To see the truth of Jesus is to see who God is but it’s also to be able to discover the truth of the human being as originally designed by God. To see or to go seeking the real image or vision of Jesus is the central task of each and every life and the journey like His journey begins slowly and lowly. To see the truth of Jesus and His being is to look not as something of a curiosity, but a long journey to His heart. He responds to the seeking not to the curious. To see the truth of Jesus is to encounter the beauty of his love which is demonstrated by his sacrifice on the cross. To see the truth of Jesus is to see the paradox of the cross – to attain eternal life, we must be prepared to die.

Often times, I have people who come up to me making the same request. They too want to see Jesus. They want to see a Jesus that will soothe their pain and take away their misery. They want to see a Jesus that is tangibly present in miracles. They want to see a Jesus who will provide a solution to their problems. They want to see a Jesus who will restore their physical health. If this is the kind of Jesus they are looking for, they will be sorely disappointed. But in a week’s time we will all get to see the real Jesus in the liturgy of Holy Week – Here is a man who could be king but chose to go the way of a slave. Here is a man who could have stirred up a following to overthrow the Roman occupying forces but decided to submit to human authority. Here is a man who could be arrayed in the finery of an emperor but chose to be stripped of all human dignity and die naked on the cross. Here is a man who willingly chose death in order that we may have life. Here is the man, Jesus, the Son of God. Here is the man we want to, we hope to, we desire to see, to live by his teachings and to die by them!

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