25 March 2012
John 12;20 –33
Some years ago the late pop idol Michael Jackson came to Ireland to give a concert. The tickets for the concert were very expensive. Nevertheless, a young relative of mine aged about 17 at the time, wanted so much to see Michael Jackson in a live concert that she went to great trouble to get a ticket. Even to get into the stadium where the concert was staged demanded a lot of struggle due to the crowds and the tight security. The people had to be in their seats 5 hours before Michael Jackson appeared on stage. However, those present didn’t consider that as too great an effort. They wanted to see Michael Jackson at any cost.
In the gospel today there are some Greeks, that is some non-Jews who want to see Jesus too, so they go first to Philip and Philip calls on Andrew and both go to Jesus to tell him. The Greeks’ request to Philip was ‘we would like to see Jesus’ I don’t know what they were hoping to see when meeting Jesus but his answer is first of all rather strange. He talks about a process of dying. In reality if they or you or me want to see Jesus we must know what to be prepared for. Seeing Jesus is not just like seeing Michael Jackson where we have a very pleasant and enjoyable time and go home probably feeling very good. To SEE Jesus is not just to look at him, which is presumably what those Greeks wanted (maybe like Zaccheus who climbed a sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus as he passed by underneath and got far more in that Jesus went to his house to eat with him). To SEE Jesus is to enter totally into his way of thinking, to understand WHY he had to suffer and die and rise again. Like the grain of wheat, Jesus had to let go of everything, including his own life, in order to bring life to himself and many others. In the process both he and we will be transformed. If we cannot see this as the core of Jesus’ life we have not really seen him. But Jesus goes further and says that we must have the same way of thinking. Anyone who loves or clings to his life will lose it. (We think of someone like Howard Hughes the billionaire who lived the last part of his life as a lonely, fear-filled recluse).
Are we ready for what Jesus asks? Are we afraid to let everything go if necessary? Is Jesus asking too much? Let us have no doubt. Jesus too was afraid, deeply afraid. Today’s gospel says it clearly ‘Now my soul is troubled. Father, save me from this hour’. But as the second reading today, the Letter to the Hebrews says ‘he learned to obey through suffering’. Imagine that if we can.
This then is the core of Jesus’ message. To see him is to lose one’s life. Not easy to accept. Yet to die is to give life and we do this and often are not aware we are following the pattern of Jesus
We think of parents with 3 children. Another pregnancy not planned for occurs and they accept to give life rather than making a different choice, which would make things less demanding for them. We think of priests, sisters, many good lay people who renounce a family of their own and go to war-torn or famine stricken countries to aid the victims often at great cost. Some give their lives in the process. We think too of many young and not so young people who commit themselves wholeheartedly to the well being of others, people living alone, handicapped people etc. We think of the efforts married people go to bring up their children with values often counter to those in a purely consumerist or materialist world etc. etc.
It is true that giving oneself in love for the sake of others is an exacting process. Yet the paradox seems to be that it is in dying to our own desires and needs to serve others that we are much happier as a result. It seems to be a clear law of nature, that in seeking our own happiness and comfort only we will never find it. But like Jesus, it is in seeking to make others happy and trying to alleviate their sufferings even at much cost to us, that brings happiness to ourselves too. Jesus wasn’t trying to tell us in today’s gospel that if we follow him that in dying to our own desires and needs at least a good deal of the time, we will be rewarded with heaven. He is telling us that in trying to make others happier now that we ourselves will also share in this now, which I presume what heaven is about. We will continue this experience of happiness in the next life.
“Lord Jesus, we would like to see you too. But sometimes we are afraid to get to close to you because we have a good idea of what it may involve. Help us to see that following you is far more than just saying prayers and going to Mass in daily. Help us to live out the consequences of our prayers and masses in giving ourselves for others. Give us your powerful Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see you and to have the same attitudes and outlook as you had. Amen.’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA