Sermon for Sunday, March 21, 2021 || Lent 5B || John 12:20-33
“We wish to see Jesus.” So say a group of Greeks to Jesus’ disciples, a request that touches off the events of the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. We wish to see Jesus. Who among us has not said some version of these words. “If only I could see Jesus, then everything would make sense!” Jesus seems to anticipate such a desire because after the resurrection he says to his disciples, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Indeed, Jesus blesses us with belief in him and his life-giving Way, even though we have never seen him – at least not in his first century flesh. When we adjust our eyes and our vocabulary so they resonate with our faith, we begin to see Jesus everywhere we look. “We wish to see Jesus,” say the Greeks in today’s reading. I’d like to spend the rest of this sermon seeing Jesus – seeing Jesus in the grand narrative of the Gospel of John that leads up to this moment. As we go through the story, notice how seeing Jesus in the Gospel helps us see Jesus in our lives.
We start in Chapter One. A few of John the Baptist’s disciples follow Jesus and ask him where he is staying. “Come and see,” he tells them. Here we see Jesus inviting others to be part of his circle. He doesn’t tell them where he is staying. He shows them. He brings them along with him, and they remain together, beginning the formation of deep relationships.
In Chapter Two, Jesus finds himself at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Weddings in those days lasted a full week or as long as the libations lasted, whichever came first. On the third day, the wine runs out, spelling disaster for the party. But Jesus provides new wine and such an abundance of it that the party could just keep going. We’re talking 180 gallons of wine. Here we see Jesus celebrating life and love, celebrating in spite of the oppressive regime that his people lived under; maybe even celebrating in defiance of it.
In Chapter Three, Jesus has a long conversation with one of the learned elites of the Jewish council. Nicodemus calls Jesus teacher, but then proceeds to tell Jesus what he thinks he knows instead of learning from Jesus. Jesus gently, but firmly challenges and expands Nicodemus’s worldview, showing him there is more than one way to look at things. Here we see Jesus challenging entrenched views in order to bring someone to a higher level of consciousness.
So far we’ve seen Jesus inviting others into his family, celebrating love in the midst of hardship, and challenging long held assumptions. And he’s just getting started.
In Chapter Four, Jesus meets a woman at the well in her hometown in Samaria. They speak at length, and by the end of this conversation, the woman feels so utterly known that she tells her neighbors, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.” Here we see Jesus offering her the gift of himself, and the gift she receives is discovering her own truest self.
In Chapter Five, Jesus speaks with a man who has been debilitated by paralysis nearly four decades. The paralysis began in his body, but over time seems to have creeped into his mind too. When Jesus asks him if he wants to be well, the man doesn’t say. He just rehearses the story of why he has not gotten better. So instead of asking again, Jesus commands him to walk. The man could decide to get up or not. He makes the leap of faith and discovers that, in between Jesus’ command and the man’s response, Jesus has healed him – healed him so he would be able to obey. Here we see Jesus giving someone the gifts they need to fulfill Jesus commands. His greatest command comes later – the command to love one another as he loves us, and we can rest assured that he has also given us the gift to obey that command.
In Chapter Six, Jesus feeds a crowd of hungry people with food and with the words of life. He has a tiny amount of food – really, just one family’s lunch – but he does not let that seeming scarcity deter him. He blesses what he has, rather than grumbling about what he does not. And more than 5,000 people are fed. Here we see Jesus finding abundance by asking for God’s blessing on what seems to be scarce.
Halfway in and we’ve seen Jesus doing so much. We’ve seen Jesus inviting others, celebrating love, challenging assumptions, offering the gift of self-knowledge and the gift of grace to obey his commands, and finding abundance amidst a mindset of scarcity. And still there is more.
In Chapter Seven, Jesus goes to a busy festival in the middle of a special holiday in Jerusalem. He starts teaching in the temple despite the fact that there are now people looking for reasons to arrest him and kill him. Here we see Jesus bravely proclaiming the life-giving Way in the face of adversity.
In Chapter Eight, Jesus confronts his opponents with the injustice they embrace. They want him to proclaim the fate of a woman accused of adultery. But he will not. He patiently doodles in the dust as they attempt to persuade him. Finally, he says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” His words have the desired effect. They all turn their gaze inward and see the ways they have not honored the relationships in their lives. No one throws a stone. Here we see Jesus responding to an unjust situation by prompting people to recognize their own role in the injustice.
In Chapter Nine, Jesus grants sight to a man who had never before seen with his eyes. Afterwards, the man’s religious gathering drives him out because he has been talking about Jesus. But Jesus finds him and ministers to him. Here we see Jesus moving to the margins of society, embracing people there, and telling others that they are the blind ones if they can’t see the dignity of those cast out from the center.
In Chapter Ten, Jesus speaks of a good shepherd, who leads the sheep to abundant life beyond the sheepfold and who will lay down his life for the sheep. Here we see Jesus as that Good Shepherd: one who prods and pushes and pulls and pleads with us his sheep so that we might rise from apathy and embrace abundance.
And in Chapter Eleven, Jesus comforts a pair of sisters after the death of their brother, Jesus’ beloved friend Lazarus. Jesus knows that death is an end, but not the end, and he let’s Martha into this truth when he tells her that he is the resurrection and the life. Here we see Jesus grieving, even as he also believes that eternal life swallows up death in the power of the resurrection.
These are some of the myriad ways we see Jesus moving and acting in the Gospel leading up to the Greeks’ desire: “We wish to see Jesus.” We see Jesus inviting others, celebrating love, challenging assumptions, offering gifts, finding abundance, proclaiming the Gospel, dismantling injustice, moving to the margins, pastoring the sheep, and grieving and hoping in equal measure.
I wonder where in your life you have seen evidence of Jesus moving in these ways? What stories can you share of how you saw Jesus in the midst of joy and hardship, love and service, grief and gift? I invite you to make your prayer today the words of the Greeks in the Gospel. Make your prayer: “I want to see Jesus.” And then believe that God grants you the eyes of faith to see Jesus. And God grants you the grace to be the evidence of Jesus’ presence when someone else is praying to see.