5th Sunday of Lent
March 22, 2015
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“We want to see Jesus.” Isn’t that what we all want? As you may have guessed, this story takes place soon after Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem as a hero. These foreigners who had come to Jerusalem for Passover wanted to meet the celebrity, that guy that everyone was talking about. At least that’s how it seems. Maybe they had questions for him, or maybe they were just curious. They managed to get through the seeming chain of command and actually meet him, but Jesus always has a different agenda than the people who want to have a conversation.
Jesus has his mind set on the work to come, and we don’t even get to hear what the Greek visitors had in mind. Jesus is looking at the process ahead of him, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And then he is looking at the process by which those who want to be his followers will also spend their lives, by putting God’s work first in their lives.
The Jesus we meet here in John’s Gospel is not meek or mild, he is sure of himself and his work. Instead of a vision of Jesus pleading with his Father “to take this cup from me,” we hear him say: “What should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
His death on the cross, his lifting up – like the bronze serpent in the desert we heard about last week – will be for the healing of the world. It will draw all people into God’s arms of love, showing once and for all everything that God is willing to suffer to show God’s love for us. For Jesus, this is the final triumph over evil, the evil in our own hearts that can keep us blind to the love which has come to join our human race. It’s as if the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus are the return arc of God’s great journey into our history that began with his birth to Mary 30-some years before.
This journey of incarnation, Jesus’ becoming a real human being, is the fulfillment of the prophecy of comfort we hear from the prophet Jeremiah, a man tortured for his words and carried off with his torturers into exile in Assyria. Jeremiah’s days were horrible, much like the times in the Middle East in our day, with invasions and massacres and political shifts as sudden and devastating as anything we witness in the news. Even in our own country, untouched by sectarian warfare, we hesitate to open the papers for fear of seeing another shooting or suicide or cyclone.
“The days are surely coming,” says the prophet, “when I will make a new covenant with my people.” It will not be like the covenant that was so easy for God’s people to ignore and abandon. It will be a covenant that is based on God’s actions, not on the actions of people who turn out to be unfaithful so many ways. The new covenant shows us God’s law of love, written for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the proof that nothing we can do will ever separate us from God’s love and forgiveness, even our ignoring it.
But that new law of love is even harder than being good and following the letter of the Ten Commandments. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me…whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” This is scary. Those Greeks probably wished they’d never asked to meet Jesus, because really getting to know him means that your life changes. Suddenly the life you live is not your own, because you have become part of the new law of love that sees the world with God’s eyes. Suddenly you see the hungry, the despised, the abused. Suddenly you see your own part in a system that marginalizes people so easily, that pits people against each other, and strikes out against the weak. Even our tendency to judge others on a different standard than we judge ourselves is so ingrained in us that we don’t even notice it. “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out,” says Jesus. Driven out of our own hearts, and replaced by the forgiveness promised to us even though we fail over and over again to live as the forgiven.
We want to see Jesus. We do. But so often we want to see Jesus bless what we bless, give us the seal of approval for our attempts at being good enough to claim to be Jesus’ followers. A friend of mine has suggested that the day of “What Would Jesus Do?” is over, instead it’s time to ask “What if This Person Is Jesus?” It is certainly a good thing that in his death and resurrection and ascension, Jesus has drawn us into the arms of God’s love once for all. It’s a good thing to remember that the new covenant, sealed by Jesus is not dependent on what we do. As the prophet speaks for God, we have this promise, too: “No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all be deeply connected to me, from the least…to the greatest…for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. “ Amen.