Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

April 5, 2003

St. Agnes, Cincinnati

"Sir, we would like to see Jesus."

In this one-sentence request the Greek pilgrims in today's Gospel sum up the whole goal of our life-time spiritual journey.

In these past five weeks we have been moving ever more deeply into the real mystery of Lent and Holy Week: the mystery of Jesus' cross and death.

Two weeks ago Paul gave us a picture of how it was perceived 'from the outside'. For the Jews it is a stumbling block and for the Greeks it is sheer folly, but for those who believe it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Today's readings give us a glimpse of what it must have felt like 'from the inside', and how Jesus confronted it. And therefore how we are challenged to understand and confront it in our lives.

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews works hard throughout the epistle to challenge the view of Jesus as some ethereal high-priest abiding in the heavens, unrelated to our everyday experience. He was 'like us in all things except sin.' He was not removed from our human condition. He offered prayers and supplications "with loud cries and tears". To the Father "who could save him from death."

And "he as heard because of his reverence." What a strange way the Father 'hears' his only Son! He is not saved from death -- and yet he is heard.

And then that amazing sentence: "He learned obedience from what he suffered." He learned obedience? Didn't he always know what the future would bring, and therefore not have to really 'obey' but just go through the motions? Apparently not. He learned obedience from what he suffered.

Do we really want to see Jesus? That kind of Jesus?

In today's Gospel when Philip and Andrew tell him about these good Greeks who have come to the Temple on pilgrimage and would like to see him, it's kind of like a group of today's Christians who might be in Rome on a pilgrimage tour and wonder if someone could get them tickets to a papal audience. Nothing earth-shaking.

But John's Gospel has Jesus take this simple request to a much more profound level. It's about his very identity and mission. What he is about is life. About sharing his life. About abiding with him.

And what else is it about? It's about becoming a dead seed. It's about being buried in the ground. Buried in trust, buried in obedience, buried in believing that the Father will be glorified.

But it's also about shrinking back in terror. It's about crying out, about shedding tears, about the very human desire you and I know: the desire to avoid pain and suffering, to be spared from this hour.

And eventually it will be about enduring the experience of utter abandonment: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

Do we really want to see that Jesus?

He had to learn obedience. It didn't come to him with Bethlehem and angels and hosannas. The Father is indeed able to save him from death -- but he has a greater gift in mind. Through his death under obedience he will become the Christ, the Risen One, the source of life and salvation for us all.

In these recent months and into this day, we have been experiencing our own form of death. There is the vicarious deaths of human beings in the center of war, but there is a perhaps deeper death in the realization that all our prayers for peace, for liberation from the scourge of war, seem to have gone unanswered. The God who was able to prevent it did not.

As Jeremiah has God put it when he prophesies a deepening of the covenant, "I had to show myself their master."

I don't think we need to adopt the apocalyptic interpretation of those who love to shout fire and brimstone, who would turn this war into God's punishment for our sins. But we are surely on solid ground if we see it as a caring God wanting to teach us something, that there is something in this experience for us to learn.

Do we really want to see Jesus?

If we do, we must allow ourselves to embrace the fullness of our humanity as he did. We must allow ourselves to acknowledge our desire to shrink back, to flee, to avoid all this pain -- all the while praying that it might lead us to a deeper level of growth, that it will deepen our obedience. We must allow ourselves to be touched at the deepest, most vulnerable place in our hearts and souls. That place where the Spirit of the Father and of Jesus has imbedded the law and promise of the covenant.

That place where a quiet voice whispers "Be still and know that I am God -- and you are my people."