Sunday Sermon for March 25, 2012, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B

Jer 31:31-34; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

In the Gospel reading today we hear about some Greeks who approach Philip with a request to see Jesus. Philip tells Andrew and the two of them go to Jesus with the request. As is often the case, our Lord’s answer to a seemingly simple request appears to have nothing to do with the request itself. He never actually answered the request directly, but begins talking about how the time had come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

While it seems like this has nothing to do with the issues regarding the Greeks, Jesus talks about the grain of wheat and how it must die to produce abundantly. This is precisely the answer to the Greeks. It is one thing to see our Lord with their human eyes, but to understand Jesus requires seeing Him with spiritual eyes.

What we see spiritually is frequently the opposite of what appears on the surface. St. Paul understood this point when he speaks about the prayer of our Lord to the One Who was able to save Him from death and He was heard, St. Paul says, because of His reverence. On the surface this would seem to suggest that the Father heard the Son’s prayer and spared Him from death. Only when seen spiritually can we understand that the Father did save Jesus from death and, in doing so, He saved us from death as well.

Obviously this does not mean that we will not have to die, but that in Jesus we have been freed from the sting of death. We pass through death to eternal life. This is the point St. Paul makes point when he says that Jesus has become the source of eternal life for all who obey Him. We have nothing to fear from death of we are willing to give up our lives for Jesus in this world. This does not mean having to die physically, but putting God and neighbor first and the self last in our daily lives. This is a death that is much more difficult than physically dying.

Needless to say, this is not able to be done by our own strength and ability. The death and resurrection of Jesus have saved us from eternal death by forging for us a new covenant, just as was foretold by the Prophet Jeremiah. Jesus is the new Covenant, but He is so only because of His obedience to the Father, because of His willingness to lay down His life for us.

In the Gospel our Lord tells us that when He is lifted up from the earth He will draw everyone to Himself. Everyone, that is, who is willing to look beyond what they are able to see on the surface with their bodily eyes and look, instead, with spiritual eyes. When we see only with the eyes of our bodies we see a maimed and bloody man who is in agony. Such a sight is naturally repulsive and makes us want to turn away. When we understand and truly see Jesus, then we are drawn to Him and to His love which is manifested so perfectly in and through that maimed and bloody body.

Only with the eyes of the soul, given clarity by God’s grace, can we see that this is the glory that He spoke of when He asked His Father to glorify Him. When the Father speaks our Lord tells the people that it was for them, not for Himself that the voice came from Heaven. He did not need any reassurance, but we did. Since the people could not understand the words, it is obvious that what they heard on the natural level with their ears did them no good. What they understood with the ears of the soul filled them with understanding and awe.

So often people say that they want to know Jesus. If we have that desire, our Lord will point out to us the same mystery of which He spoke to Philip and Andrew. The answer to our desires is given from the Cross where we come to know Jesus in the fullness of His Person. We frequently want to find Him in His teachings, in His healings and miracles, in His early life in Nazareth or in His hidden life. All of these will help us to know about Jesus but they all point beyond themselves to something greater.

Each of these mysteries points to the Cross where we can see, hear, and understand. Only there, lifted up from the earth, are we drawn to the full expression of the love God has for us. As He did with the Greeks, He draws us beyond our natural desires and curiosity to find something greater: He draws us to the Cross where we come to know the Person of Jesus.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit