by Br Julian McDonald cfc

During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Hebrews 5: 7-9
“Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you most solemnly 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…Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.” John 12: 20-30

Today’s second reading from Hebrews and the gospel-reading from John give us an insight into the internal struggle that Jesus dealt with as he faced the consequences of his speaking and acting with integrity. He fully realised the impending death that awaited him at the hands of religious leaders whose power and status had been threatened by his teaching and preaching. However, one’s being aware of cruel reality is no exemption from fear, not even for Jesus. His selfless life of boundless love for others brought dire consequences, While he knew that his death would ultimately be a source of new life and freedom for humanity, he was terrified by the prospect of the violence and death by execution that awaited him, the exact details of which he could only imagine. Aware of his own vulnerability, he was courageous enough to declare aloud that he was frightened. Moreover, he trusted God so fully that he was able to articulate in his prayer the urge he felt to ask God for an exemption from the death that awaits every human being. And Jesus was totally human and faced the same mortality as the rest of us. He knew in the depths of his heart the abundance of life that God would bring from his dying.
Despite the internal struggle he was experiencing, Jesus used the metaphor of the grain of wheat to teach an invaluable lesson about the price of love. To reach out in love to another human being is to take the risk of revealing our own vulnerability, of letting go of something of ourselves, of opening ourselves to the possibility of being hurt.
If we look carefully at how the Gospel writers describe the public life of Jesus, we will see that there was nothing wishy-washy about his teaching. He spoke the truth as he saw it without worrying about the consequences. He opted for authenticity rather than for going in search of popularity and acceptance. That earned him the admiration of those who came to name him as friend and committed themselves to walk in his footsteps. That did not stop him from challenging them when their words and actions emanated from thoughtlessness, ignorance or self-importance.
His speaking and acting with integrity meant that such exposed him to criticism and rejection. Safety first did not enter into his calculations. If we stop and look at the way in which we relate to others, isn’t it true that we don’t easily warm to cautious people to those who crave acceptance or to those intent on living risk-free lives. We are much more at home with those who don’t always agree with us, who can risk telling us when we are full of our own importance. Vulnerability is a good indicator of genuineness.
While in faith and trust we can acknowledge that our death is the gateway to eternal life, there are very few of us impatiently waiting to die. On several occasions Pope Francis has chosen to highlight the topic of death in his Wednesday public audiences. In 2017 he observed: “We are all small and helpless before the mystery of death.” That echoed Jesus’ admission that he was inclined to pray to God for an escape route. But he came back to focus on the fact that it would be only by going through death that he would be able to demonstrate that God’s love could overcome all evil, even the evil of death. That was the ultimate purpose of his life. That’s why John can describe it as “his glory”.
These readings today confront us with the reality that we will all die. A corollary of that is the importance of stopping to ponder the purpose of the gift of each day. What is its value and how might I best live it?
We can read today’s gospel as a disclosure by Jesus of the purpose and significance of his life and death. In order to move from being observers of to participants in this gospel, we will have to stop and ponder the purpose and significance of our lives as his disciples. Are we a gift and an inspiration to those around us? Are we vulnerable enough to make an impact for life on everyone we encounter?
If, at the end of all this, you are left wondering what happened to the two Greeks who thought Philip would make it easy for them to meet Jesus, you are in good company. Scripture scholars, aware that John didn’t waste words, have been equally puzzled. Some have suggested that the Greeks’ request to Philip: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” is John’s way of indicating the truth of an earlier concern about Jesus’ popularity expressed by some Pharisees: “Look, the whole world has gone after him” (John 12: 19).Others have suggested that this was John’s way of stating that Jesus came for the whole of humanity, gentiles included. It might also be meant as a comment by John encouraging members of his community to lay aside any prejudices they held about foreigners. Still, Jesus’ lengthy explanation of the purpose of his life and death may well have left two inquisitive Greeks utterly bewildered. Still, isn’t the Greeks’ request one that could legitimately be put to each of us by anyone who knows we are Christians? What of Jesus do we show others by the way we live?