Sermons

March 21: How Can I Help You? (Lent 5B)

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel…I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:31-34.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks about a new relationship of God with his people. The prophet foretells of a personal, deeply intimate bond, a kinship that is heart to heart, person to person.

In her commentary, Jaime L. Waters writing for America Magazine reminds us that in Hebrew, the word for heart (leb) also refers to the mind.

She explains:

“The heart was thought to be the location of rational thinking and consciousness, similar to how we think of the brain. When God writes the law on each heart, God instills the requirement deep within the intellectual center so that people can more fully understand the law’s intent to foster good relations with God and one another.” (America, March 2021).

Jesus answers this prophetic call, and in today’s gospel passage, he announces: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:20-13). Onlookers took note, gentiles and Greeks became curious about this man’s ministry.

The apostles responded to these new people, we read: “Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip…and asked him: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Thus, Jesus’s face-to-face encounters become a personal calling with his asking: “How can I help you?”

I’m sure we’ve all experienced a moment when we telephoned a toll-free 800 number to complain about a package not delivered on time. Or an inaccurate bank transaction or you’re put on hold for such a long, long period by the “friendly skies” that were not so friendly that day. And the long list of automated numbers that avoid any human interaction. But the second a live-person responds, you might say in a more demanding tone: “Sir, please, I want to speak to your supervisor!” Your goal is that of contacting a higher authority who might resolve your issue!

In this passage of John’s gospel, we read about Greeks or gentiles demanding from the Apostles — a “face to face” direct encounter with Jesus, whose healing, preaching, and “food of life” has nourished and strengthened his followers. They want to see for themselves this man who is a “life force” and seeking out how Jesus might set things right. Jesus is asking: “How can I help you?”

Indeed, there are individual challenges in life where we need Jesus. In this gospel passage, we read about Jesus, who questions his mission and sounds deeply troubled about the road ahead. These are the times when you ask yourself, “Is God really on the job?” We need to consider that Jesus too had such a moment; that’s what makes the Cross and his suffering so central to redemption.

In times of personal difficulty and pain, we listen attentively to Jesus’s words: “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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life will preserve it for eternal life.” Such words demand great courage and integrity if we are to follow Christ.

Written years ago, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s “The Gift of Peace” is a book about life’s greatest challenges. Here he points out three issues that stop us in our tracks: the news of cancer or severe illness, or the death of a loved one – a wife or husband, the unexpected loss of a son or daughter in wartime.

Lastly, those persons who are wrongly or falsely accused, perhaps innocent people going to jail for a crime they had not committed, or that rush to judgment by the crowd or social media.

Bernardin comments:

“As Christians, if we are to love as Jesus loved, we must first come to terms with suffering. Like Jesus, we cannot be cool and detached from our fellow human beings. Our years of living as Christians will be years of suffering for and with other people. Like Jesus, we will love others only if we walk with them in the valley of darkness – the dark valley of sickness, the dark valley of moral dilemmas, the dark valley of oppressive structures and diminished rights.” (“Give Us This Day” March 2021, p. 235).

Let us turn to this “life force” that is Jesus – the teacher, the preacher, and healer of souls, and we want to see him person-to-person, face-to-face. As we encounter him on this Lenten journey, we listen for his bidding — how can I help you?

He says: “I have come that you may have life and that you may live it more abundantly; I am the light and the way to the Father.”

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

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