“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
LENT 5B: Do We Really Want To See Jesus?
All of our lectionary readings for this Sunday make it difficult for me to choose which to develop. So I will go for Jeremiah and John. The prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) reveals God’s new covenant with the people. Unlike that of Sinai, it will be written on each person’s heart. With the law written on the heart each person can act instinctively in God’s ways. They could live out the covenantal requirements with exterior acts that flow from a heart turned to God. “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.” God still seems to be writing on people’s hearts from every race, religion and nation. How many good people have we known, or heard about, who have given their lives to help others? The doctors and nurses who went to Africa to help Ebola patients or to war zones come to mind. They left their comfortable homes, careers and family, risking their lives to help others. Some out of religious conviction, others not. They just wanted to serve others in severe need. What could stir each of them to make such sacrifices? I believe that it is God who writes on our hearts and transforms them to be Christ-like.
In John's gospel (12:20-33) we see the still-writing-God at work in the Greeks who went to Philip and asked, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus?” As John was writing his gospel Christians were being persecuted and martyred as the consequence of professing their faith in Christ. So, John links the sufferings Christians must bear in their lives and the glory that awaits them as he records the words of Jesus who said; “I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it produces much fruit.” Jesus was not just referring to gardening. Martyrdom is a reality for all Christian generations. Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of El Salvador, soon to be a saint was killed by wealthy land owners and military people who called him a communist. “Unless the grain of wheat dies....” Sr. Dorothy Stang worked for 30 years as a tireless advocate for the poor of Brazil. She was opposed and threatened by the ruthless land owners who were stripping the Amazon rainforest and displacing the peasants. As her assassins approached her on an isolated road she pulled out her Bible and read aloud from the Beatitudes. They shot her. “Unless the grain of wheat dies….” The movie “Selma” reminds us of the brave women and men who marched with Dr. King 50 years ago from Selma to Montgomery. On March 7, 1955, “Bloody Sunday,” at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, many were beaten by the police. In that same month Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister one of the marchers, was murdered. “Unless the grain of wheat dies….”
There are many different forms of martyrdom. A martyr is one who accepts the sacrifices and pain which come from being faithful to Christ and his ways. Jesus invited his disciples to take up the cross and follow him. He challenges each of us to make choices that might be painful or costly. What can I give to those who lack; what will I not do in my work and social life to witness my faith; how much of my time and resources go to my church and community; whom will I defend when my companions label or stereotype those who are different? Jesus has modelled for us the costs of being faithful to God’s will. “Yet what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” If we want, Christ in us will enable us to die to our will and seek after God's will.
Those who came to Philip wanted to see Jesus in the flesh. For John “seeing” symbolises coming to faith. John is suggesting that outsiders were hoping to “see,” come to believe in Jesus. In his own lifetime Jesus’ ministry was almost exclusively confined to his own people. The Greeks who came asking to see Jesus represent the Gentile world - all people. How would they come to believe in Jesus? Jesus said, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw ALL to myself.” Jesus is no longer in the world in the flesh; but we are. Through our words and works, people will come to “see” Jesus through us. On this fifth Sunday of Lent, before we enter the week of Christ's passion, let us take the time to pray with our - new covenant heart's - that others may come to "see" Jesus in us and in the Christian community.