Fervent prayer can often lead to unexpected results and a vision of Jesus that we weren’t looking for. Are you ready for what the Lord might grant?
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Gospel: John 12:20-33
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 Andrew 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.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;
but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
Jesus answered and said,
“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.
Now is the time of judgment on this world;
now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
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.
Gospel Study: Would You Like to See Jesus?
We are hearing a Gospel that is taking place just after Jesus would’ve made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem riding on the donkey amidst the loud cries of the crowd proclaiming him as the Messiah and king. After this is happening, the crowd is going wild to see and hear Jesus but at the same time at the other end of the spectrum we see the growing hostility among Jesus and enemies, particularly the Pharisees who perhaps are green with envy to see the crowd turning away from them and to be even threatened more at the type of reform that Jesus was preaching. A reform that would call into question all that they stood on and had given their life to.
In this particular animosity that Jesus is feeling, he is reading the sign on the wall that is the forewarning of his own passion and crucifixion. In that scene, we then come to the first lines of today’s Gospel that relate to us several Greeks—that is those who came from a distant land to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover—came up to Philip, one of the disciples and said, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Now we don’t know if they were just curious and anxious tourists who wanted to see the superstar that they’d been hearing so much about; or maybe they were typical Greeks who had come from a background of philosophy and study of knowledge and truth seeking to learn more about the meaning of life; or they could have been prayerful pilgrims desiring to come to know Jesus. Whatever motivation they had in mind and heart all we know is that they come with this beautiful request: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
We would do well to ponder and consider that simple prayer ourselves. What a wonderful statement, Sir, we would like to see Jesus. I’m reminded of a good friend of mine—a religious sister—who religiously prays before the Blessed Sacrament early in the morning to begin each day. On one particular morning, during this Lenten season in fact, she was drawn with a deep desire to come closer to Christ and as she herself was reflecting on the Gospel she found herself praying silently but fervently in her heart: “Lord, I want to see you.” She used those very words. I would have wanted to have seen you had I lived when you came to earth. She went on thinking in her mind: “I would have wanted to be one of those people along the crowd where you came down to visit the people, to speak to the crowds. I would have wanted Lord, she said, to have been one of those women who followed you on the way to Calvary. I would have done anything, gone to any length just to see you Jesus.” No sooner had she prayed that and felt that deep desire in her then quickly came the very distinct soft but clear voice deep inside of her that said, “I am here with you and you can see me in the wheelchair, the sister who is ailing and aging, in the sickbed of the sister who is dying. I am right here, right now.
That was a moment of tremendous illumination and conversion for this holy sister. As it could be for us if we were to take that same question to prayer ourselves. To allow the Lord to open our eyes to see where in the world is Christ for us today. Once we have experienced that, we can become his disciples and help others to experience that. This is the interesting point of perspective of Andrew and Philip. We hear in this Gospel that the Greeks originally came to Philip and Philip immediately went to Andrew and both of them immediately went to Jesus with the request of the Greeks: “Jesus, someone said they would like to see you.”
I see in Andrew and Philip, a marvelous example of what a real evangelist is—or maybe another way of saying it, Ambassador for the Lord—someone who helps to lead others to Christ. People are not sure where to go looking. They are not sure where to experience hep or healing. We can lead them to the Lord. I will always remember my experience at the University of Cincinnati where during my five years of campus ministry there, I was so concerned about the number of people who were turning to so many things looking in all the wrong places and experiences for what I truly believed can only be found in the Lord.
Some of our great concern was for people who would be looking to different cults and looking to different experiences that I think were unhealthy and often I wondered what we need today is more Andrews and Phillips to go forth to lead these searching people to the Lord. I believe what people are looking for is the Lord. We are the ones, like Philip and like Andrew, can lead people to Jesus. It’s interesting when Philip and Andrew bring this request to Jesus it’s that Jesus didn’t directly or immediately (so it seemed) answer their request.
One would expect that Jesus would say, ‘Oh sure let me meet them and shake their hand.’ But, you know, Jesus was never one just to shake a hand and sign autographs. He always drew people to a deeper reality and spoke to a higher truth and so his answer for these searching minds to see Jesus is to point them immediately to his mission, to the message of his life, he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
You might already know that John throughout his Gospel often refers to “the hour” and the hour is the special time which God comes to save his people. It’s the hour of salvation that is seen in Jesus’ passion and crucifixion and resurrection. This is the hour that gives God glory and the glory is not given to Jesus. In other words it’s just the opposite of what the world might define as glory, as giving honor or fame. Instead it’s a complete emptying and sacrificing of his very life, to give glory to the father.
To further explain this powerful message, Jesus tells the beautiful parable of the grain of wheat. He says, “I solemnly assure you unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just of grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” The point of the parable I think is self-evident. Either the grain lives and exists just for itself, or it dies to itself and offers itself so to bear much fruit for others.
Obviously Jesus is that seed par excellence that dies and is buried in the ground and yet will rise up to bear much fruit and to give life to everyone. He also applies this parable to his disciples. Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever loves their life loses it, while whoever hates their life in this world reserves it to life eternal.” That sounds a little harsh at first. Like if you love your life, what’s so wrong about that?
We need to understand this in terms of this Semitic mentality. This love and hating of one’s life is a common Semitic expression for indicating priorities. In other words, what Jesus is saying is: If you make yourself number one above all else, even God, this is wrong. In terms of the Jewish mind, this is another form of idolatry; a false God, that God being what is number one in your life. You know, and I know, how much of our society has made a gospel of looking after number one.
We live in what I consider, the me generation that is so focused on self and self-fulfillment. We have forgotten how sad and sick can be a narcissistic tendency; to be stuck on oneself and so unable to live a full life that bears much fruit. Let me be clear though in saying that there is nothing wrong with loving oneself. In fact we must love ourself but we should say it as clearly as Jesus said it in teaching the great commandment, we must first love God; God first. Secondly, we must love our neighbor as we would ourselves. I’m concerned about this because I don’t think our at least my generation is getting this message well.
Just recently I ran into a young man whom I had the great privilege of marrying just a year and a half ago. He and his wife are beautiful people and very committed Christians, a loving couple, very compatible and very responsible marrying later in life. And yet he brought me the tragic news that they are separating and seeking a divorce. It crushed me. I was initially shocked but I was so saddened by it. I asked him, “What in the world happened? You are both such good people and so good for each other. What happened?” Lowering his head, with a quiver in his voice, he said, “I don’t know except I guess we let our careers come first and they kept leading us further and further away from each other.”
I wonder how often that does happen today. It was just a few days later and I was in my office and I was meeting with an engaged couple and I thought it would be a good teaching story to tell them what happened to my friends. I said to them, “I believe that it’s so important to have the right priorities in life. For me what that means is God’s first. Each other and the marriage and the family is second. And your career and your business is third on down the line. As important as our career is, which is very important, and I think third is high up there but it’s just that you have to put each other before that, because that is what we say is our vocation, our call from God and therefore is the reason we make God first who enables us to live out the other priorities.
As one person said, “you know the first commandment is really the only commandment love God first and foremost and all the other nine commandments are simply consequences of that first commandment.” This young couple looked to each other and said, “To be as honest with you as you been with us, I don’t know if that’s the case. We have to think about that. Right now I’d have to say that’s not what’s happening.” And I said, “Please do think about it.”
What does the commitment of marriage mean then but to commit yourself to that sense of high priority: Putting God first, each other second—including your future children as well—and then thirdly your profession that enables you to support your family, calling you to live a full life. What I’m saying is, I think our society has so permeated itself with the sense of self-fulfillment that I think we have forgotten this paradox of the Gospel. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. It is in giving that we receive. It is in spending ourselves and sacrificing ourself that we are ultimately and completely fulfilled.
That’s a mystery that can only be learned if you live it and discover it for yourself. That’s the only way and that’s what I hear Jesus calling us to in this Gospel. This Gospel that he will obviously take to heart and live out through his own passion and death. Therefore I bring our attention to what better example have we of someone who practices what he preaches than Jesus himself. In the latter part of this Gospel we see Jesus in prayer. It’s always to me a touching point of the Gospel to be privy to Jesus’ prayer and to be able to see how he opens his heart up to God. There you sense the struggle of one who was truly human in every way that we are but sin. As a man, not unlike every other man or woman here, Jesus did not want to die.
I might add, John’s Gospel does not relate the agony in the garden of Gethsemane instead he seems to give us this little insight of his prayer that contains the same version of Jesus praying and struggling because he says, “My soul is troubled now, yet what should I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ It was for this that I came to this hour. Father glorify your name.” Picture this, here was a man only 33 years old in the prime of his life, certainly in the prime of his ministry, who was just gaining what was his small world’s attention; who was beginning a powerful healing among his people; was beginning the saving work of God. What could be more important and more urgent and more necessary for the world yet he was struggling with what would seem to be the inevitable consequence of his teaching and of his witnessing, which was his own crucifixion and death. You know he struggled as the other Gospel evangelists write, he sweated bullets of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Imagine all his work coming crashing down with what seem to be evident defeat and failure. Yet he saw his mission in life was not to be successful but to be faithful. Not to receive, but to give. Not to live for himself but to give himself fully. To sacrifice himself completely for the father. That is what he chose to do. This is the cop that he drank from and Jesus gave himself as still today is the greatest sermon ever preached on the Mount of Calvary with hands outstretched on the cross we have imprinted in our minds forever, this is how much God loves us. In the words of John’s very gospel so that being lifted up he would draw all people to himself.
I would like to end with a story that I think captures some of this spirit of the parable of the grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies and the message of this particular teaching of Jesus to give oneself to fulfill the father’s will. This is a story that many of you would be familiar with, it’s the story of the Giving Tree. What you may not know—what I didn’t know until recently—this story was written by man named Shel Silverstein, which as you can guess, he comes from a Jewish background but later in life he became a convert and became Catholic. Shortly after his conversion to Catholicism he met up with a childhood buddy of his by the name of father Brennan Manning. When Father Manning met Shell, he asked him how he as a Christian Jew would now describe his faith and feelings about Jesus who obviously was a Jew himself but of course the great leader of all Christians for all time.
Shell Silverstein said it was such a powerful question that it took him back a moment and he told his friend Father Manning, “Give me a week to think and pray about that and I’ll get back to you.” During that week pondering this question, “How can I tell people about my feelings about Jesus Christ and the life that he lived? I know, I shall tell them this parable:”
Once there was a tree and she loved the little boy and every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples and they would play hide and go seek. He would sleep in her shade and the boy loved the tree very much and the tree was happy. But time went by and the boy grew older and the tree was often alone.
And then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said, “Come boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat my apples and play in my shade and be happy.”
“I am too big to climb and play said the boy. I went to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?”
“I’m sorry,” said the tree, “but I have no money. Take my apples boy and sell them in the city and then you will have money and you will be happy.”
And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away and the tree was happy.
The boy stayed away for a long time and the tree was sad and then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, “Come boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy.”
“I am too busy to climb trees,” said the boy. “I want a house to keep me warm. I want a wife, I want children and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?”
“I have no house,” said the tree, “the forest is my house but you may cut off my branches and build a house, then you will be happy.”
And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house and the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time and when he came back the tree was so happy she could hardly speak.
“Come boy,” she whispered, “come and play.”
“I am too old and sad to play,” said the boy. “I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?”
“Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree. “Then you can sail away and be happy.”
And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away and the tree was happy, but not really for after a long time, the boy came back.
“I am sorry boy,” said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you. My apples are gone.”
“My teeth are too weak for apples,” said the boy.
“My branches are gone,” said the tree. “You cannot swing on them.”
“I’m too old to swing on branches,” said the boy.
“My trunk is gone,” said the tree. “You cannot climb.”
“I’m too tired to climb,” said the boy.
“I’m sorry,” signed the tree. “I wish that I could give you something but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t need very much now,” said the old boy. “Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “Well an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”
And the boy did and the tree was happy.
When I read that story of the Giving Tree I often think of my parents, and so many other parents I know who give and give and give their time, their love, their treasure, everything they have; everything they are. You look at them and you would think for so much giving there would be nothing left to be spent and yet as I look at my parents, the irony is you find the most fulfilled people and a happiness that is so deep down inside and is so genuine. You know that you have discovered the secret of life. It’s not in the receiving but in giving. Its in dying that we’re born to eternal life.