Fifth Sunday of Lent B
I have to be honest: sometimes I struggle to follow exactly what’s going on in St. John's Gospel. Today’s passage is a perfect example.
We’re told that some Greeks want to see Jesus. They approach Philip, who goes to Andrew—two disciples from Galilee: a region where most folks were bilingual. They serve as translators and bring this simple request to Jesus. And how does Jesus respond? “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it will yield much fruit.”
That leaves me wanting to say, “Gee, thanks for the folksy lesson in agriculture, Jesus, but do you or don’t you have a minute to visit with these Greek guys?!?”
So what’s actually going on here?
So often, we want to see Jesus. We’re struggling, hurting, questioning, grieving. We’re looking for answers, for purpose, for meaning in life. “I need you, Jesus! Where are you, Jesus?”
And our desire to see Jesus usually comes with a pretty clear expectation of just how we want to see him. Because I have a definite picture of how I think life should go, I also have a definite picture of who Jesus ought to be and what he ought to do. When things are bad, I want him to come and fix ’em—quick! When things are good…well, just leave well enough alone, won’t you, Jesus? Which means that when I want to see Jesus, it’s generally not the real Jesus I’m after, but my own image of who Jesus should be.
And that’s why Jesus’ response isn’t really so far out in left field.
For us, Palm Sunday is still a week away. But in the Gospel of John, the scene we hear about today comes right after Jesus’ not-so-subtle entry into Jerusalem. Passover is coming, so a whole lot of pilgrims are in the holy city. And in light of Jesus’ rather splashy entrance, the packed town is abuzz. In fact, in the verse immediately previous to our passage, the Pharisees are saying to one another, “Look, the whole world has gone after him!”
Which brings us back to those Greeks.
It’s important to note that they’re Greeks—that is, they’re Gentiles; they’re not Jews. Jesus’ circle of influence is now expanding beyond his own people. And Jesus is concerned that the Greeks, like the Jews, will get the wrong idea about him. You see, many Jews were looking for a Messiah who would save them from oppression by overthrowing the Romans—restoring their nation’s former glory. The Greeks? Perhaps they got swept up in the frenzy of the crowd and wanted to get close to this “rock star” preacher so they can ride on his coattails when he really takes off.
But Jesus knows that the only way to truly understand him and his mission has yet to be revealed—although that hour is coming very soon. What will be the sign of Jesus’ great triumph, that he’s fulfilled the purpose for which he’s come? How will we see the Son of Man glorified? It won’t be when we see him carried along by adoring throngs waving green palms of victory. We won’t see riding high on a white stallion at the head of a mighty army or ascending to a golden throne. No—it will be when he’s lifted up—bruised and bloody—on the Cross.
That’s not exactly the Jesus they were looking for…but that’s the real Jesus.
The real Jesus is one who acts in perfect obedience to the Father. He doesn’t ask to be saved from his ordained place in God’s plan, however mysterious or painful it might be. Of course he sends up tears and loud cries, yet he trusts the Father—and trusts him completely. Obedience is what the Father desires—from Jesus and from all of his children—which is why obedience glorifies the Father’s name. And when Jesus glorifies his Father by willingly being lifted up on the Cross, the Father in turn glorifies his Son by lifting him up from his grave in the earth to take his place in heaven at God’s right hand. The grain of wheat has fallen and died, and therefore produces its abundant fruit.
Can you and I do likewise? Can we accept our place in God’s plan, rather than mope about because God won’t enact our plans? Are we willing to meet the Lord in our suffering, rather than just hold out for him to swoop in and rescue us from it? Can we trust that God really does love us and care for us, and really does know what’s best for us, even when the road is long and winding, or isn’t leading exactly where we wished to go?
Which is all to say: are we ready to see and follow the real Jesus?
It is at the altar, in the Most Holy Eucharist, that we meet the real Jesus again and again: the one who accepted that the new and eternal covenant could only be sealed by the shedding of his Blood.
The Eucharistic Prayer—the heart of every Mass—ends with the priest chanting a doxology: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.” And all respond, “Amen!” As those words are sung, priest and deacon lift up the Body and Blood of Christ under the humble yet fitting appearance of wheat and grape. Notice that the two are separate from each other…and we all know what happens when your blood gets separated from your body. When we are kneeling before the altar, we are kneeling at Calvary. But it’s in this willingness to obey, this willingness to utterly trust the Father, even unto death, that Jesus gives him highest glory and honor.
We, my friends, are called to do the same.
Let Jesus draw you to himself, draw you to the real Jesus, draw you to the Cross—so that he may then lift you up in his Resurrection. To this invitation of the Lord, may our entire lives be a resounding and continual: Amen!
* * *
After Holy Communion:
Lord Jesus, in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, you have planted yourself like a grain of wheat in the soil of our hearts. In these privileged moments after Holy Communion, when you are so very close to us, help us to see you—to see the real you—so that we may serve you and follow you and bear much good fruit.