Fifth Sunday in Lent
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Two years ago, The Washington Post set up an experiment to learn whether people would recognize real quality in their midst. They arranged with Joshua Bell, a young violinist, to dress in jeans, T-shirt, and baseball cap and play his violin near a busy Washington D.C. Metro station.
Thirty two dollars doesn't seem too bad for 45 minutes’ work. That figures out to $42 an hour, if you don't take any breaks.
Bell does better at his day job—or, as it were, his night job. A few evenings earlier, he had sold out
Boston Symphony Hall, with most tickets going for $100 or more. In that concert, he played a Stradivarius
violin worth $3 million—the same violin that he played at the subway entrance. The fiddler standing against a bare wall outside
the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the
finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music
ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. (Pearls
Before Breakfast, Gene
A lot of the people who walked right by would have stopped if they had known who it was that they were missing (and dissing). I wonder if we would notice Jesus if he were in our presence today. We’d have to be paying attention, I think. If a thousand people are too busy, too distracted, too caught up in their own stuff to notice Joshua Bell playing the violin on the corner, does Jesus have a chance? Jesus, after all, is someone who says things like…
Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
How likely are we, really, to pay attention? On the surface, Jesus can be kind of opaque. Take just that one sentence. On the surface, it’s a saying that makes no sense. Is it worth our time and effort to puzzle it out?
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In today’s scripture, some Greeks have noticed Jesus. They are paying attention now. I don’t know whether it was Jesus’ teaching, or healings, or the way he included those the system excluded...but something got their attention. It might have been Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. That certainly got the attention of the authorities, who at this very moment are plotting Jesus’ arrest and execution.
These Greek people are probably from
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
Wouldn't we all, in one way or another, like to see Jesus? Wouldn't we all like to get a first-hand glimpse of him; to see, up close and personal? To know for ourselves the kind of man he was, to hear his voice, observe his mannerisms, follow his train of thought? To see the look in his eyes when he looks at us? Wouldn't we all like to see Jesus?
Why is that? It starts, I think, with simple curiosity. Perhaps that’s where you are right now—wanting to learn more about this guy Jesus and the people who claim to follow him. I suspect curiosity is what was motivating the Greeks in today’s scripture. Jesus is fascinating.
I think we all start out in the place of curiosity. There was a time when each of us didn’t know much about Jesus. But as we learn, we realize that Jesus is more than just an amazing teacher; that he intends to be more to us than just a good example. As we get to know more about him, we realize that Jesus is demanding. He wants us to do what he does. He wants complete surrender to God. He wants to be Lord—not just of pieces of our lives that we feel like turning over to him. He wants to be Lord of everything about us.
And that’s an excellent reason to want to see him. Why would I turn control of my life over to someone I don’t really know? If I’m going to trust Jesus with…everything…I want to—no, I need to—know him very well indeed.
And Jesus wants to be known.
It’s not like he’s being all mysterious, refusing to tell his followers
what’s going on. He’s actually very open
with them, and with us. He tells his
followers what the
And here he is, in
23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”
Grains of wheat must in a sense die to what they are if they are not to remain alone and fruitless. If you plant a wheat seed and come back later and poke around the roots of the plant, you’ll never find the original seed—but you will find dozens like it up at the top! And so it is that human individuals must in a sense die to our love for our own lives, lest in loving ourselves more than anything, we destroy ourselves.
To have life, real life, we have to pursue something else. There are other things that are like this—things that we cannot pursue directly. Love is one. We can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Love me! Love me right now, the way I want to be loved. Here are the details.” No, to be loved, first we have to love. If we focus all our attention on how other people are loving us (or not), love will forever escape us.
Happiness is another thing we can’t pursue directly. Happiness sneaks up on us when we’re busy with something else. Albert Schweitzer said, “I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Or you might like the way Edith Wharton put it: “If only we’d stop trying to be happy we’d have a pretty good time.”
Jesus is telling us that life itself is like this. He says that what we understand to be our lives here on earth is only the beginning of what is possible for us. If we’re going to really live, we mustn’t be too attached to our lives. Jesus is not saying that we must all become martyrs. Many Christians, after all—probably most Christians—have lived long and full lives. But fullness of life comes when life itself is not the most precious thing to us.
This week I attended a chapel service
Oscar Romero was born in 1917 in a
small town in the mountains of
terrible things were happening in
Romero strenuously denounced the violence—from the pulpit, in speeches, in letters, and on the radio. He wrote President Jimmy Carter, beseeching him to stop sending military aid to the Salvadoran government, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He continued to plead for an end to oppression, for reform of the nation’s deeply institutionalized structures of social and economic injustice, and for simple Christian decency. In all, at least 75,000 - 80,000 Salvadorans would be slaughtered; 300,000 would disappear and never be seen again; a million would flee their homeland; and an additional million would become homeless fugitives, constantly fleeing the military and police. All of this occurred in a nation of only 5.5 million people.
“Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasants…No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God…In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people, I ask you—I implore you—I command you in the name of God: stop the repression!”
The following evening, while performing a funeral mass in the Chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot to death by a paid assassin.
Only moments before his death, he had reminded the mourners of Jesus’ parable about wheat, which is part of our scripture today. These are his prophetic words:
“Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ
will live like the grain of wheat that dies…The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”
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that at last his hour has come.
Throughout this gospel he has been telling people, starting with his own
mother at the wedding at
Jesus will demonstrate the Yes of the incarnate God in the face of all of humanity’s No’s. Over and over we turn away, we wander off from what God desires—and Jesus is going to show us how God loves us, by loving us more than he loves his own life. This is a God whose love can no longer be questioned.
Do you want to see Jesus? Someday we will see Jesus again in person, when he comes back for us, as he has promised. But we don’t have to wait until then. Jesus wants us to see him, to know him, now. We have the scriptures to study, and the Holy Spirit, to teach us and guide us. But there’s more, if we are paying attention. We have to be looking for him—like the game I played with the kids earlier. But where do we look? Here’s the clue, from 1 Corinthians 12.27 (NIV):
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
I spy with my little eye…Jesus!