5th Sunday of LENT
A Homily for 3.22.15
The Gospel Lectionary Reading for this, the fifth Sunday of Lent, brings forward for our consideration the challenge of truly seeing and following the real Jesus. No doubt, this challenge of seeing and following is a proper lenten excursion, especially in this moment of time when all Christian disciples of the West face the reality of such a steep, internal and external cultural captivity.
That is, today it is extremely difficult to identify the origin our view of Jesus, recognizing whether our view of him is sourced in culture, in Holy Scripture or an admixture of the two. At stake in this consideration, then, is nothing short of a faithful discipleship verses a deformed discipleship.
What I propose, therefore, in the rather brief homily, is a challenge toward a biblical view of the Savior, one radiating from its most basic understanding. Namely: We must come to see Jesus as the essence of sacrificial Love and reconciling forgiveness -- the Son of Man Must Suffer and Die. Which leads to us follow Jesus in the same way by losing our own lives in him and for him. But then, we must further see Jesus as he faces his troubled future with determination. Which leads us to follow Jesus by drawing even close to the Master.
Seeing Jesus As Sacrificial Love/Reconciling Forgiveness -- the Son of Man Must Suffer and Die
Today's text reads:
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.To see (read: understand) the true Jesus we must see him through his passion, through his actions from the cross, through his sacrificial love and his reconciling forgiveness. To see the true Jesus we must see him through the suffering of his own very real and very personal death. And Jesus says as much, for in the text he confesses that the hour had come for him to be glorified. This meant that the time had come for Jesus' true mission to be revealed; the time had come for him to face and finish the work to which he had been called -- namely, the identification with humans and the resulting humiliation of cross.
Now, we know that GOD's response to the brokenness of the world and to the sinfulness of humanity would lead from Abraham finally to the cross. We know that GOD's response to the putting right the lostness of the world and the ultimate judgment of the ruler of this world and the was the death of the Son of Man. But, here, in Jesus' confession from today's text, the cross is laid bare, opened before us, so that his hearers could see how the death of the one -- the representative -- would break the power of death for the many. They were led to understand, as are we, that on the cross the sacrificial love of the one would offer reconciling forgiveness for the many.
Jesus confesses through today's text that on the cross the glory of the Lord -- his vindication, his reality -- would be manifest for all to see. But, he knew, as we now know, that the glory would be translated -- understood and seen -- through suffering and death. That is, the Savior stands prepared to face the brutality of empire and the evil hosts of the prince and power of the air, and to do so the Savior steels his face as a flint (Is.50:7). He withstands the final challenge of redemption, ultimately the defiant descent into a death that will decisively snatch and secure our freedom from that last, great enemy death and that great purveyor of evil, the satan. (N.T. Wright)
This means to truly see the Savior one must make special note of the movement toward his glory. The movement first involves a plunge downward into dregs of suffering, humiliation and death, before it becomes a movement upward to vindication and glory. This movement is exactly what St.Paul had in mind when he writes in Philippians 2:6-11:
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.And being found in human form,8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Following Jesus -- Losing Your Life
But, to see the true Jesus means the disciple must, of necessity, follow him all the way. The disciple must take the same path of descent. Take note how today's text also reads:
Whoever loves his life loses it,and whoever hates his life in this worldwill preserve it for eternal life.Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.The Father will honor whoever serves me.Jesus's humiliation, suffering and death becomes the living pattern of life he leaves for his followers (cf. Matthew16:24 & Luke 9:23). We are to see his example and follow it. And what is his example? As we have already said: Sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness. These terms are shorthand for dying to self, for giving away our rights, for offering the second mile and the other cheek. These are the terms that Jesus offers his followers as his way of life that ultimately brings to reality the new community and the new humanity.
Sadly, most of the time we disciples desire the glory without the cost; we seek to claim the triumph without the suffering and the dying to self. Somehow we have gotten the wrong-headed notion that Jesus paid it all and therefore we own nothing. To be sure, we do not, we cannot earn redemption. In that sense, Jesus paid it all. But, just as surely we are to respond to the gift of redemption with the gift of our very lives. Examples, beyond today's text could be endlessly multiplied. Let's just view one. Let's look at Philippians 2 again, but this time the verses just before those cited above (Philippians 2:2a-5):
2a be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...
Seeing Jesus -- Troubled But Determined
Still, there is more here in today's that enables us to truly see Jesus. Notice, this portion:
“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?‘Father, save me from this hour’?But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.Father, glorify your name.”
In some ways, this may be the most vital moment of the today's reading, without doubt it is the most poignant. Here we see the Son of Man troubled. About what?
Clearly Jesus knows what lies before him -- the death of the seed falling to the ground, and just as clearly he knows exactly what this death entails. This will be a bitter cup that he must drink. It will be a cup that stinks with the stench of sin and hate and violence and death. It will be a bitter cup that contains the storylines of every broken life-gone-a-stray which will converge on that one spot of the cross. And, it will be a bitter cup that will carry the foul bilge of empire-abuse and demonic shrieks.
What does he respond?
...it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.Father, glorify your name.”
Following Jesus -- All Drawing Close to the Master
Which brings us to the final thought for this homily from today's text: When we see the real Jesus we must draw close to him. Or, as today's text reads:
And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
Clearly, this statement is Jesus' response to Philip's report of the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. Jesus explains that when he is lifted up on the cross, his death will draw all people, all nations to himself. That is, Jesus in his troubled mind and heart looks beyond the trouble and sees the result of his glory. He sees us.
When we are troubled, when the brokenness of the human condition piles on us with relentless fury -- which it does, will we shrink back from our troubles, or will we stand with Christ in determined obedience, seeing the promise of his glory?
Said differently, Jesus' obedience must lead to our obedience. Jesus' love for the Father must be a bridge for our love for the Father. And, Jesus' hope beyond death and defeat must lead and define a daily life of hope beyond death and defeat for us as well.
The Greeks asked, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus," and we respond, "so would we."
And, when we look what do we see? We see a man, a truly human being, anointed with the Holy Spirit and determined to obey the Father whom he loves most of all. We see the determined disposition of his heart toward the final fulfillment of the heart and meaning of Torah -- Love GOD; love others -- not just neighbors but even enemies. We see all the lines of his life lived through his chosen motif of the suffering servant of GOD -- moving willingly toward the death of the cross. And, finally, we see his readiness to love others before his own life.
To see this is to see the real Jesus, and to see the real Jesus is to be again called to follow in his steps...