John 12:20-33, Fifth Sunday of Lent
“Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we would like to see Jesus.’”
We would like to see Jesus. What is Jesus’ response? “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Throughout John’s Gospel, beginning with the Wedding at Cana, Jesus speaks of His “hour,” the time when He will die, and at the end of our Gospel today He says something else about this hour: “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” In other words this ruler’s time—Satan’s time—is up: the King has returned.
These Greeks, though they worship false gods and do not believe in Jesus, want to see Him; something about Him has their curiosity, and Jesus uses this opportunity instead to speak about the death He would soon suffer for the sake of this world that was about to be judged. He says, “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself,” meaning that by His death, He will be lifted high enough for all to see; people from every race, every corner of the earth will be drawn to Him: in becoming a man and dying for us, as one of us, Jesus chooses to extend the love of God to the entire world.
In our First Reading God says, “The days are coming…when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers… All, from least to greatest, shall know me… for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more. ” Soon, as we remember Jesus at the Last Supper, the priest will pray, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.” The death that Jesus foretold in our Gospel, the death we remember and proclaim at each Mass, establishes the covenant with humanity that God has desired all along.
“We want to see Jesus.” If you want to see Him, see how He lived and how He prayed: from His Heart, which was full of love for God and for us. Our Second Reading tells us that “in the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death…” Death, St. Paul tells us, is the wages, or the consequence, of sin (Romans 6:23), though Jesus’ death was a consequence Jesus freely chose to suffer for our sins, not His. Sin entered the world through the disobedience of our first ancestors (Genesis 3:6, 11), and St. Paul writes further that “[f]or just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Sin is disobedience toward God, a rejection of His Fatherhood and love; obedience, as Jesus shows us, is to accept the Fatherhood and love of God. If sin is disobedience and the result is death, then to obey God is to live; our Second Reading concludes by saying, “…Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Jesus, St. Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians, “…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2:7-8). If you want to see Jesus, as the Greeks in our Gospel wanted to see Him, look to the Cross. There we see Jesus, clearly, with nothing hidden; we see Him for Who He truly is and confess, as the centurion confessed, “Truly this is the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) And how do we see Him there on the Cross as the Son of God, more clearly than even His birth, than any of His miracles, His Baptism, or His Transfiguration?
“I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts…” Jesus taught us to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34), and He loved us so much that He willingly chose to suffer and die for us: “No one has greater love than this,” He tells us, than, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” On the Cross, more than anywhere else, Jesus reveals the love of God, a love we could never have guessed or otherwise known. “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (John 15:9).
“I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” our First Reading tells us, “No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. All, from least to greatest, shall know me…” On the Cross we see Jesus because it is on the Cross that He reveals, to the fullest extent possible in human terms, the love God has and has always had for us. The Cross is not always easy to look at, but we must look if we ever hope to truly see Jesus, if we ever hope to learn for ourselves how to love one another as He has loved us. For on the Cross He teaches us something vital about love there in the midst of pain, abandonment, failure, and death. He teaches us that “Love is strong as death…Love never fails” (Song of Songs 8:6, 1 Corinthians 13:8)