To see Jesus...

Published on 15 Mar 2021

We would like to see Jesus [1].  The Greeks who approached Philip with that question speak for many. They speak for us, who would like very much to deepen our knowledge of Christ, and have wanted to allow that project to advance during Lent.  The Greeks asking to see the Lord surely also speak for many others who are curious about him and would like to find out more about him in as direct a way as possible.  Is it possible to see Jesus?  He is manifest in the sacraments and in prayer.  As the Word of God he is visible in his teaching and in the way of life to which he calls us.  The Lord can be perceived in other people. He is discoverable in the least of his brothers and sisters whom he asks us to love and help.  Jesus can plainly be seen on the cross.  Crucifixes and other works of art try to reveal him.  The crucified One is vividly detectable in pain.  He is conspicuous on that Calvary which is the suffering of the world.

The response of Jesus to Philip and the Greeks who would like to see him is surprising.  He does not immediately arrange to meet them.  He offers neither a saving teaching nor any of the kinds of closeness which might permit them to know him better. There is no come and see [2].  No hurry, I must stay at your house today [3].   These interested outsiders the Lord neither welcomed nor encouraged.  Philip went to tell Andrew and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus.  Jesus replied to them ‘Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified [4].  It is time for him to suffer, to die and to rise again.  Those who want to see him should look to Calvary.  In Lent, we prepare to proclaim, at Easter, with renewed faith that Christ is risen, that he is truly risen.  The resurrection is reached by way of the passion.  All the other ways of seeing Jesus are distilled into a contemplation of the paschal mystery.

‘By the wondrous power of the Cross your judgement on the world is now revealed and the authority of Christ crucified.’[5]   Preliminaries are concluding, the essential is now being presented.

The Greeks who wanted to see him are going to find him suffering and dying.  It is not that they have come too late to really get to know him. On the contrary, all his authority and the judgement, which must await the end of everything, are dramatically revealed on Calvary.  He became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation [6].  Knowledge of Jesus is knowledge of his passion.  Wherever I am, my servant will be there too [7].  Is this a little too quick for the casual inquirer?  Is it a little too rapid for us?   To express the desire to see and know more of him, is not necessarily to agree to go with him to Calvary.  He himself hesitates a little before the path which is opening before him, and along which he invites his friends to accompany him. Now my soul is troubled.  What shall I say: Father save me from this hour? [8]   The Lord understands our fear.

We none of us flinch from the question of whether there might have been some other way for God to save the world.  Could he have rescued us without the cross?  Can we see Jesus somewhere else than in the paschal mystery?  Could we not meet him in some sacrament, or passage of the scripture, or in a prayer or in an encounter with someone in need which was not weighed down with the cross?  Instead of hoping for the resurrection, could we imagine some other means of salvation in which the Lord would not die and therefore not have to rise?   Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest [9]. The logic of Lent drives us inexorably towards Holy Week and Easter.  Anyone who loves his life loses it: anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life [10].

To accompany Christ as he renounces everything is to accompany him into the presence of his Father. ‘Father, glorify your name’. A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.’ [11]  Cautious inquiry about seeing Jesus can be seized upon as agreement to live a life of arduous discipleship.  The only way to get close enough to see Jesus where he is visible is to draw very near to the cross.  Jesus reveals himself in this way to the Greeks who searched for him and to us.  He calls out to a readiness in us to go with him to this most difficult place.   This willingness is already within us, awaiting renewal.   There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest.’ [12]  The inquirers are being neither snubbed nor railroaded.  Jesus is visible if they care to look in the difficult place where he suffers.  To look at him on the cross is to see how much he loves us.   Far from being rushed, our attention to the suffering of Jesus has been long in preparation.  The obedience of the Son has had its impact on us for some time.  Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.  The I will be their God and they shall be my people [13].  We have much to learn about Christ, but among the places of discovery is within our own experience, where, for a long time, God’s covenant has required our attention.

Here is the explanation of our good instincts, of our tender conscience and of our natural attraction to goodness.  God has been shaping us in the way he wants us to be from the beginning. It is natural to us to live in the way which God wills and commands and which is pleasing to him, and indeed to us.  Our discovery of ourselves as persons responsive to the law, which God has written in our hearts, pleases us, as well as God.  There need be no resistance in us to this natural goodness. Do not cast me away from your presence, nor deprive me of your holy spirit [14].   That divine law which is written in our hearts has prepared us for what he teaches us.  We were almost expecting something of the sort.  Give me again the joy of your help, with a spirit of fervour sustain me [15].  We have been readied for the passion thanks to the divine schooling of our instincts and desires; thanks to God’s cultivation of our conscience; thanks to his encouragement in us of a natural attraction to goodness. Our repentance for our sins is a grace which works well with out nature. O wash me more and more from my guilt [16].  If we are to see Jesus, as we say we desire to do, we realize that we must accompany him through his passion.  We are not seeking out suffering but only looking for Christ, whom we will find living and dying and rising as he has to do.  Although he was Son, he learned to obey through suffering [17].

At this stage of Lent, there is sometimes a veiling of statues, including the figure of Jesus on the cross.  We conceal, for a time, the crucified Lord from ourselves in order, in due course, to unveil him and to recognise him afresh and with new love and reverence.  The one whom we long to see, we must seek in another way than by looking at the familiar icons of our salvation.  They are covered up for a moment so as to be uncovered later, with fresh understanding.  The temporary concealment of the figure of Christ challenges that in us, which so readily forgets him and obscures his teaching.  The hiding of the image of the Lord also provokes anew our deep desire to know him well.  There is being exercised a profound capacity in us for recognising him and loving him.  We refrain from looking so as to see better.  Veiling him from ourselves, we strive to understand Jesus with more faith, more hope and more love.  He is never evasive, only truthful and obedient.  If we seek Christ, we will find the cross, though it may fully reveal itself to us only gradually.  The grain of wheat which dies and yields a rich harvest is also to be the focus of our attention. When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw everyone to myself [18].

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

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[1]              John 12.21

[2]              John 1.39

[3]              Luke 19.5

[4]              John 12.22-23

[5]              The Roman Missal, Preface I of the Passion of the Lord

[6]              Hebrews 5.9

[7]              John 12.26

[8]              John 12.27

[9]              John 12.24

[10]            John 12.25

[11]            John 12.28

[12]            Jeremiah 31.34

[13]            Jeremiah 31

[14]            Psalm (51) 50.13

[15]            Psalm (51) 50.14

[16]            Psalm (51) 50.4

[17]            Hebrews 5.8

[18]            John 12.32