‘Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:20-21) The feast mentioned here is the Passover, which we are about to celebrate. These ‘Greeks’ were probably converts to Judaism from the eastern Mediterranean, an area which after the conquest of Alexander the Great was dominated by Greek language and culture. They want to see Jesus — one wonders what they made of the rather strange answer Jesus gave to the disciples who put their request to him: “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24) Mark finishes off this Gospel passage with the remark: ‘With these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.’ (John 12:33) “We wish to see Jesus” — where they will see him is on the cross. Next Sunday we are all invited to go and see him there in that terrible place. When these Greeks asked to see Jesus, this is not what they were wanting to see; and neither do we. And yet we cannot not go. For, as Jesus puts it, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)
Oscar Romero, the slain Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated at the altar after giving a homily on today’s Gospel reading. As a bishop, Romero started off as a rather quiet, pious and conservative cleric who tended to side with rich and powerful in his country whose greed and corruption were oppressing the vast majority of the people and making their lives a misery. One day a priest friend of Romero, Rutilio Grande, who worked among the poor, was executed by security forces on his way to the village of El Paisnal where he was conducting a novena in honour of the town’s patron saint. On his way to El Paisnal, when he became aware that they were being followed, Rutilio is quoted as saying, “We must do what God wants.” His killing shocked Romero, and he did the funeral for his friend the following Sunday. During the funeral procession the slogan was heard: “Rutilio’s walk with El Paisnal is like Christ’s journey with the cross.”
His friend’s murder was a turning point for Romero: “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead, I thought, ‘If they killed him for doing what he did, then I, too, have to walk the same path.’” After this Romero found his voice, speaking out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. For this Romero was executed, like his friend. This is the meaning of Jesus’ words: “If a man serves me, he must follow me; wherever I am my servant will be there too.” (John 12:26) In the body of his friend lying there dead Romero saw the Christ, and he knew what he had to do. His willingness to do what he knew he had to do, and so reveal the Christ to all who have eyes to see, is what Jesus means when he said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)
This is why we need to look on him on the cross. (John 19:37) For we, too, need to see Jesus, to know what we must do; we, too, need to know how we can be like him, and so be able to show him/reveal him to others who want to see him. Not all of us are called to be martyrs, though some of us may be. But we all still need to know how to reveal him, and to this we are called; we need to know what it means to die like a grain of wheat, and how to do it — just like he did. For me, such a moment came when I heard of the murder of the monks of Tibhirine in Algeria in 1996. What was so shocking for me was the fact that these men were killed for doing no more than I was doing here in Tarrawarra. In their story — so well portrayed in the film, Of Gods and Men, which I recommend to you all — we learn how they chose to remain in Algeria knowing full well that it would probably cost them their lives … and yet they did, and it did! In what they did, I saw how ‘the grain might fall on the ground and die’ in just simply following a monastic vocation. And I saw, too, that to ‘hate my life in this world’ doesn’t mean that I can’t love it and enjoy it while I have it; it just means that I know what I have to do and am willing to do it. (John 12:24, 25) For each of us, to find our vocation we need to ‘see’ Jesus (John 12:21), to know how we might follow him. (John 12:26) And this means that we probably need to ask to see him (John 12:21); we need to express our desire (Psalm 27:8) — prayer and vocation go hand in hand.
Where we will find him is in all those acts of selfless service that are going on around us all the time, but which we tend to overlook and take for granted due to their ordinariness, though occasionally the extraordinariness of a particularly selfless act may grab our attention. But when we notice, when we ‘see’ him (c.f.: Mark 15:39), we too, will know what we must do to be like him (1. John 3:2) — though we do need to notice … we saw him just this other week in the nun who knelt in between the police and the protesters in Myanmar (Sr Ann Rose Nu Tawng, 10/3/2021. C.f: Psalm 106:23), we see him in those countless parents who ceaselessly and lovingly raise their children; we do need to look and see … to hear his call to follow. (John 12:26) And for so doing we have Jesus’ promise: “If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.” (John 12:26) This is not to say that it will be easy, for all selfless acts involve self-denial wherein ‘the grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies’ (John 12:24) — even Jesus found it hard, and yet, after praying for the strength, he did it; he knew what he had to do. (John 12:27-28. C.f.: Luke 22:41-44) In seeing what he did, in seeing him in what others do, we can hear his call: “Follow me.” In this imperative is our way to life. (John 12:25) This is why we need to look.