40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Fifth Sunday in Lent-B, 21 March 2021 Jeremiah 31:31-34 + Hebrews 5:7-9 + John 12:20-33
In the beautiful church of the town of Tanay in Rizal is found a most unique Seventh Station of the Cross where one of those depicted when Jesus fell for the second time is a man with dark glasses looking afar. Local residents say the man with sunglasses is Caiaphas, the chief priest during the time of Jesus who led the Sanhedrin at his trial leading to his crucifixion.
Nobody can explain exactly why the artist portrayed that man wore sunglasses that was popular among people of stature and position in the country when the carving was made in 1785. Also interesting aside from the man in shades are the soldiers with him shown with Malay features of brown color and wide eyes opened, all looking somewhere except for one looking at the Lord while clutching his garment as he fell looking heavenwards.
I remembered this piece of work of art inside the Tanay Parish Church declared by the National Museum as “National Cultural Treasure” because our gospel today speaks about a request by some pagans to see Jesus. Seeing has many meanings, always leading to believing. And sometimes, it is in believing we are able to see most of all!
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.” Philip went and told Andrew; then andfrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”John 12:20-25
Seeing to believe
As we have been mentioning three Sundays ago, the fourth gospel uses poetic expressions and symbolisms to convey deeper truths and realities about Jesus and our very selves, our having or lacking faith in God. Like the act of seeing by those Greeks who requested Philip “to see Jesus”.
If they simply wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus, they could have easily seen the Lord who was always at the temple area at that time. Jesus had always been available to everyone like last Sunday when Nicodemus went to see him at night.
But, John often used the verb to see in many senses that also mean to believe like in his appearance a week after Easter to his disciples along with doubting Thomas: Jesus said to him “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn.20:29).
Most mysterious for me in John’s use of the verb to see is in the call of the Lord’s first disciples led by Andrew: He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went where he was staying and saw where he was staying… Andrew followed Jesus. He first found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn.1:39-41).
What did Andrew see that he later told his brother Simon that they have found the Messiah?
Of course, John’s most notable use of the verb to see is from that scene at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday when the perfect model of the believer is the “other disciple” whom Jesus loved “went in, and he saw and believed” (Jn.20:8).
Very clear in the mind of John that the request of those Greeks to see Jesus was one of faith, of meeting and speaking with Jesus to be enlightened more like Nicodemus last Sunday. Here we find our important role of being another Philip and Andrew, leading other people to see Jesus.
Those Greeks described as “God-fearing” were pagans attracted to the teachings of Judaism and came to Jerusalem to observe the Passover Feast. They already have faith in God that must have been awakened further when they heard the teachings of Jesus; hence, their request to see Jesus.
It happens so often that when by the grace of God people are illuminated with faith even in the most personal manner, they still need Philips and Andrews who would enable them “to see” Jesus to grow and be deepened in faith. There will always be a need for an apostle who could lead others to “see” Jesus because faith happens within a community, within the Church and through others’ mediation.
And here lies the bigger challenge for us disciples for us to make Jesus “seen” in our lives and in our community.
Believing to see.
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just as a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.John 12:23-26, 32-33
In a sudden twist, John tells us nothing if those “God-fearing” pagans saw Jesus at all because the Lord immediately went on a discourse after being told by Andrew and Philip of the request, briefly interrupted by God’s voice speaking from heaven that everybody heard in the temple area.
Speaking in the parable of the grain of wheat dying first in order to produce much fruit, Jesus tells us how we can lead others to truly see him in us and through us by having the same determination and perseverance to follow him, stay with him, and be like him by dying to ones self for others. For the grain of wheat to die and spring forth to new life, it has to be detached. And so are we.
Notice Jesus repeating that sign of his being lifted up on the cross he mentioned last Sunday to Nicodemus. John mentions it again in this part of his gospel adding an explanation at the end because for him, the Crucifixion is Christ’s greatest sign and revelation of his glory, opening a path for us back to God in his Cross, through his Cross.
In teaching us about the parable of the grain of wheat dying and linking it with his being “lifted up”, Jesus now tells us and every “God-fearing” person that we can only “see” him in the scandal of the Cross.
Did those God-fearing Greeks remained in Jerusalem and saw Jesus on the Cross?
We do not know but we are sure that anyone who requests to see Jesus always sees him if we believe first in his crucifixion which is when everyone is drawn to him as he had said. We must first believe Christ died so we may see him risen to life.
It was on Christ’s dying on the cross when God established a “new covenant” among us as prophesied by Jeremiah in our first reading today, giving us all an access to him in Jesus, through Jesus, with Jesus which we celebrate daily in the Holy Eucharist.
Grappling with death to see life
We have never seen the crucifixion of Jesus except in its portrayals in the many movies we used to watch in Holy Week; but, its realities are etched and impressed in our hearts through the many trials and difficulties we have gone through in life that we believe Jesus truly died. And because of that, we have also seen him alive!
Such is the reality of seeing Jesus that every time we describe something so difficult, so trying, we equate it with death like when we say “we felt like dying” taking the exam. And the good news is when we overcome the tests that we use again the word or concept of death to describe something so good as it leads us to glory like when we say a pizza or a steak or a cake to die for.
Such is the paradox and scandal of the Cross of Jesus: we can never see him risen in glory if we avoid and refuse seeing his Passion and Death right in our own selves, in our painful experiences.
Going back to that unique Seventh Station of the Cross at the Tanay Parish Church, I realized how the unbelievers and others among us could not see Jesus as the Christ because they have refused to believe in him first especially when they are down with all kinds of problems and trials, looking somewhere else instead of seeing Jesus fallen in front of them.
Let us believe in Jesus so we may see him in this final week of Lent as we prepare for Palm Sunday next. Amen.
A blessed week to everyone!