Passiontide: Wanting to See Jesus

Lent 5 – 21/3/21

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Edward Vardanian, Crucifixion (2003)

How has Lent been treating you? Has it been a time of learning new things about yourself and God? At this point in Lent, I think that many people get tempted to give up on the whole thing! Others may think it doesn’t make much difference anyway and carry on as normal. Whichever way we are marking it (or not) this season is moving on – rather quickly. We began after Ash Wednesday with Jesus’ baptism as told by Mark; the next Sunday saw Jesus beginning to teach his disciples that he was to undergo great suffering, be killed and rise again in three days. The next thing we read was Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple with the reminder that he would be killed and rise again in three days. We lightened up a bit last week for Mothering Sunday.

This Sunday – the fifth Sunday of Lent begins the final push towards Easter as a ‘season within a season’: Passiontide runs these next two weeks until Easter Sunday. There is a turning in the Gospel reading this morning as Jesus narrows down the time frame with ‘the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’. In the previous Gospel readings there has been no time specified. This threw the disciples and the Jewish authorities into confusion over when things were to happen!

There is another confusing piece in the Gospel passage too. The festival was Passover, the great Jewish feast that required Jews from far and wide to come to the Temple in Jerusalem. So where did these worshipping Greeks come from?

Somewhere along the way, we can assume, they had heard about Jesus and now had a desire, a wish to see him. Are they curious about his message, his parables? Are they hoping to see a miracle-worker? Were they sceptics? Troublemakers? Wanting to pick a fight? We don’t know what the motives were and I am glad of this mystery as this brings up some rather interesting questions for us.

Do we wish to see Jesus? Maybe see the Jesus who does stuff for us, answers our prayers, heals people and helps the lonely, the lost and the least. But the Jesus who talks about his death and how hard it is going to be? The Jesus who wants us to give up our lives with little promise of comfort or reward?

I wonder what those Greeks made of what Jesus said next? Is this the Jesus they wanted to see as he launches into talk about death? Whoever serves me must follow me? Did they follow him after this?

Then there is the voice from heaven! The crowd heard it – some said it was thunder, others said it was an angel. Again, how much do we want to see Jesus and do we want to hear from him?

There are times when I really want to see Jesus. I want nothing more than to hear his voice – whether it is the still small one or thunder from the heavens. There are times when I would rather be deaf and blind to it all. Excuse signs and wonders as thunder and blend in with the crowd.

The question today is ‘do you wish to see Jesus?’ Does this question register with us all right now? From the essayist Debie Thomas, ‘If we say yes, which Jesus do we wish to see? The teacher? The healer? The peacemaker? The troublemaker? Why are we interested? Or, if we’re not asking and seeking, then the question shifts, and we have to ask it differently: why is Jesus not on our radars? Does ‘seeing’ him feel impossible right now? Uninteresting? Irrelevant? Has he become so familiar to us that he’s faded away entirely?’

I hope that for those of us who have grown up in the faith have not lost the scandal and shock of Jesus’ death. I pray that as we continue through this Lenten journey we can all recapture something of the deep mystery of the crucifixion. With new eyes we see what happened on Good Friday.

If we want to see Jesus, we have to be willing to look at the cross. It is the cross that makes true sight possible. It is, as Jesus said, ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’

Debie Thomas, ‘In the end, what this week’s Gospel reading teaches me is that I don’t have to strive and strain to see Jesus. As he told those Gentile seekers two thousand years ago, he is the one who draws and gathers all people to himself. He is the one who allows himself to be lifted up, so that what is murky or overwhelming or frightening — God in his indecipherable Otherness — comes close and becomes visible.

As we continue our journey through Lent, I hope you will want to see and hear Jesus in new ways. Jesus loves whether we do or not. Jesus wants to see to me, you, all of us – regardless of our desire to or not – far more urgently than we will ever want to see him. We love because he first loved us. The cross draws us towards love with a power that is compelling and completely mysterious. Jesus draws us together in love. Let us watch for the signs with seeing eyes, listening ears and hearts that burn for more of Him.