We see the face of God in Jesus, so that means we see the depth of God’s love in the cross, and our own path to life and witness.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday in Lent, year B
Text: John 12:20-33 (with reference to other verses of John)
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“We want to see Jesus.”
That’s all they asked, these Greek Jews. Finding a disciple who spoke Greek, they said to Philip, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.”
Isn’t this a beautiful opportunity for a follower of Jesus? Such a simple request. But it’s kind of complicated, isn’t it?
Jesus’ very strange response shows that. John doesn’t say he greeted or acknowledged the seekers. He starts talking about his anticipated time being upon him. He talks about a single grain of wheat that will remain a dead seed unless it is buried, planted into the earth. Only then can it live, become the beauty it was meant to be.
We want to see Jesus, like them. But we also see someone talking about dying and rising. About being lifted up. Unlike these Greeks, we know that means the cross. John, our narrator, fills us in: “he said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”
“We want to see Jesus” is anything but a simple request.
But it’s a request the very beginning of John’s Gospel promises we’ll have answered.
John says it’s good to want to see Jesus, because to see Jesus is to see the face of God. Jesus is God’s Word, God’s Logos, God’s Blueprint, God’s Pattern for the Universe, the shape of the very nature of the creation, now among us as a human being.
John says Jesus, the Son of God, who is at the heart of God, makes the Father known to us, and Jesus, the Son of God, who comes among us, makes the Spirit known to us.
We want to see Jesus because Jesus is the face of the Triune God for us. Everything we need to see about God we see in Jesus. But we’re still stuck wondering: why does seeing Jesus mean seeing death and burial? Why is he talking about seeds dying and about being lifted up in the air?
Maybe because he knows we’ll soon see him that way.
John says he wrote his Gospel so all could see Jesus for themselves, and believe he is the Son of God, the Christ, and in believing, have life in his name. (20:31) From the beginning of his book, John gives us signs to help us see Jesus.
And from the beginning the greatest sign is the cross. Unlike the other Gospels, John foreshadows the cross very early. He says the Son shows us the Father’s heart in chapter 1. In chapter 3, as we heard last week, he says that God’s heart is love for the whole cosmos, so the Son came to heal, not to judge. But already there Jesus says that love will be seen when he is lifted up, like the snake Moses put on a stick in the wilderness to heal the people.
Now again today, Jesus promises he’ll be lifted up.
So seeing Jesus is going to be relatively easy. He’ll be up on a hill, raised higher than everyone and everything else. Zacchaeus won’t need to climb a tree. People won’t have to tear a hole in a roof and lower a friend down. Judas won’t need to give a secret signal in the dark. Everyone will see Jesus very soon. Hanging in pain and suffering, dying on a cross.
To see Jesus is to see the truth of the seed that dies only to live.
Mary of Bethany saw this. Just before today’s Gospel is Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with palms, and just before that, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, took extravagantly expensive perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet, wiped them with her hair. Some of the disciples criticized the wastefulness. (12:1-8)
But Jesus knew. He knew that after he entered Jerusalem in triumph the next day, even his disciples would see a ruling king. Maybe even some foreigners, Greek Jews would be impressed enough to come looking for him. But he also knew that his hour was coming.
So did Mary. She saw the face of God in Jesus. She saw that the love of God Jesus revealed to her and the others was leading him to death. Rather than waiting to anoint him after his death, Mary prepared him for it. She saw clearly.
For the rest, for you, for me, Jesus has to tell the mystery of a seed dying to live. Maybe we haven’t sat at his feet long enough like Mary to see through our own fears and doubts, or our beliefs about how God should be.
But now Jesus’ strange reply about the seed makes sense: you need to see me like Mary sees, he says. You need to see that the outcome of my love is you’ll have me killed. Faithful to the heart of God, Jesus loves us enough to be willing to lose everything.
If you want to see Jesus, look up. Look at the cross.
When we see Jesus as Jesus really is, we not only see the depth of God’s love, though. We see the path to our life.
Remember, Jesus is the Logos, the Blueprint, the Word, the Pattern of God for the universe in our human flesh. The seed that dies only to live is the pattern of life that really is life.
Seeing Jesus face death, and rise from the dead in love and grace, the believers realized that his path of dying to live really was a true path of life. They understood why, when speaking of his own dying, he invited them to lose their life to find it as well. To embody God’s heart, too, and live as that heart the way Jesus did.
It’s your invitation, too, you heard Jesus today. Lose your life to keep it. Let go of everything that keeps you from being filled with God’s love. Maybe it’s a sense of not being of any value. Or anxiety about life and the future. Maybe it’s selfishness and pride. Or guilt and shame. Maybe it’s a need to control life and others. Or a sense of being out of control and helpless. There are many more possibilities.
We’re all seeds, wrapped in what is killing us. But when with the Spirit’s help we let go, die to those things, bury them and us, like the old self Luther said needs to die every day, then we’ll discover what it is to live. We find winning by losing. Gain by letting go. Life by dying.
“I came that you might have life and have it abundantly,” Jesus said. (John 10:10) This is how you find it.
Now you see what Jesus meant that in being lifted up, he’d draw all people to himself.
On the cross, Jesus not only made it possible for the whole world to see God’s love. Being lifted up on the cross, Jesus also draws all people’s attention to what our love, true love really looks like. What God’s pattern for abundant life in this world really is.
Not power or strength or control or domination. Not hoarding or saving or securing. Not taking care of yourself before and excluding all others. Not dismissing or hating yourself.
No, abundant life is found when we love the same love, vulnerable, giving, sacrificial. When we die to what is in us that is not of that love. Jesus, lifted up on the cross, shows us all how we find life that is rich and real.
“We want to see Jesus.” You do, don’t you? Well, look up. Sit at Jesus’ feet for awhile until you see. And wonder, ponder, dwell in what you see. Until you begin to look like Jesus, too.
Until all people can see, all are drawn to God’s love. And the world is healed, as God has so long desired.
In the name of Jesus. Amen