Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him….
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we come today to the final Sunday in Lent, we find the hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. It is the hour when the purpose for which Jesus came into the world is now ready to be fulfilled: Father, glorify thy name. Our Lord has received his cue. His final act to play on the great stage of the world has come.
It doesn’t really look like that, though. At least not to our human point of view. The feast that is bringing the crowds up to Jerusalem to worship is the Passover. It’s the great feast of Israel’s deliverance from the angel of death all those centuries ago in Egypt. You can imagine the frenzy of the city as the big day drew near. Think Boston on the week of St. Patrick’s Day, but minus the COVID. So here in Jerusalem, people would probably have been in good spirits, even despite the weariness from their journeys.
“Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa′ida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” Here, you can get a sense of the overall good mood of the situation. These are devout Greeks on their way to worship the one true God in Jerusalem. And perhaps they have this hunch that if you’re going to Jerusalem to worship God, you better make it a point to see Jesus while you’re at it. The revelation that Jesus is the Son of man and thus the Son of the Father in heaven is dawning on people -- even on some Gentiles like these Greeks. And so they approach the Apostle Philip: Sir, we wish to see Jesus.
This is not the first time that those who long for the grace and healing of Christ have expressed their wish to see him. But there is something about either this request or those who are making it that is different. Because Christ’s response here is certainly different for sure:
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also…
Not exactly the greeting you’d expect from a VIP. But I think it’s the fact that these are Greeks who wish to see Jesus that gives him the cue. That’s what signals to Christ that the hour has come. Because these are Gentiles. They are outside of the people of Israel, the people to which Jesus belongs as a Jew. The revelation of himself to the world has extended its reach, which was the plan all along, but it now appears that the plan has worked. In the Greeks’ desire to see Jesus, our Lord’s title as the “desire of nations” has been confirmed.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus. This request of the Greeks puts into words the ultimate desire of all Christians. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” St. Paul says, “but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Or, in St. John’s words, “we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The entire point of the Christian life is the vision of God; it is to see God as he is and thereby to become as he is. At the moment, the glorified body of Jesus is removed from our sight; he has ascended into heaven, and so we are no longer able to regard him from a human point of view (2 Corinthians 5:16). Here in the text, of course, Christ has not yet ascended into heaven -- he hasn’t been crucified yet or raised from the dead. But whether it’s the Greeks’ sight of Christ’s normal body or our sight of his glorified body, neither vision has been granted to us yet. They, and we, can only desire to see Jesus.
But if you wish to see Jesus as he is, what is it that you expect to see? What is it about Jesus that you desire? It’s worth asking these questions for ourselves because it’s not enough to have just any desire for God. Even if we find Christ compelling, there are still any number of possible reasons for that assessment -- some of which are less legitimate than others. As Jesus himself once told a crowd which had sought him, “you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26). Sometimes, what we’re actually desiring of Christ is not Christ himself, but rather the worldly benefits that can sometimes come with being a Christian. Many of these benefits are quite good in themselves -- just as the loaves that Christ provided to the crowd were good -- but they are still just things. They are not Christ himself. And since we are full of more desires than we could possibly count, the task we face with our desire for God is to prayerfully distinguish that desire from all the others.
So, as you inquire for yourselves about what motivates your own desire for Jesus, let Jesus’ response to the Greeks in today’s Gospel lesson come in and do its work.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also....
Christ’s response here provides us with the test we need to examine our wish to see Jesus. That is, he gives us the model of what the true desire to see looks like. And it looks like a particular and peculiar form of life. The one who truly wishes to see Jesus is the one who is like a grain of wheat that “falls into the earth and dies” so that it can bear much fruit; the one who “hates his life in this world” in order to “keep it for eternal life”; the one who follows Christ so closely that wherever Christ is, there they will be also.
It all sounds very Lenten, to be sure. But while Lent will soon be over and we’ll enter into the festivities of Eastertide, it’s important for us to recognize that Christ’s words here are said in “the hour” that has come for him to be glorified. His teaching is not temporary, because it is not primarily about us as his followers, but about himself. The reason why his servants will be those who “fall into the earth and die” in order to bear much fruit is that he will soon, quite literally, fall into the earth and die before bearing the “first fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23) of his resurrection.
“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” What we’ve been learning all through Lent is that the humanity of Christ was made perfect through his obedience, which was performed through his suffering. And the reason we wish to see Jesus is so that we can be made like him -- to be made perfect ourselves. But this means that our perfection will be accomplished through the same process of obedience through suffering that Christ went through. Our humanity will be perfected in the same way that his humanity was perfected. To follow Christ is to follow him to a death like his, so that, having “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires,” (Galatians 5:24) we may join him in a resurrection like his. That is how we will come to be where Christ is, gathered around him as the many fruits born out of his victory over death.
So if you wish to see Jesus, you’ll have to get in line, so to speak. Up ahead you will see the noble army of martyrs who have followed him most closely, followed by all the rest of the saints who, in their own ways, have “carried in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:10). Because this is the line that leads straight to Calvary. For “now is the judgment of this world,” Jesus says, “now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” May God grant that our hearts may surely there be fixed at the foot of the cross, the place where true joys are to be found, even if it’s where we’d least expect it. Amen.