Lent 5B Sermon (2006)

5th Sunday in Lent
Texts: John 12:20-33;
Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 5:5-10


Some Greeks came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
— John 12:21

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It seems like such a simple request. But in John’s Gospel that’s never quite as easy as it sounds. From the very first chapter we’ve heard that the light came into world but the world didn’t know him. Last week’s Gospel from John three repeated that same theme with slightly different language: “that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19).

But perhaps the peak of this theme comes in John chapter nine, the story of a man who has not been able to see since birth. Jesus heals the man, but that’s not the end of the story because he did so on the Sabbath. So even though Jesus has done something absolutely unheard of, healing a man blind from birth, the Jewish leaders are upset because Sabbath laws were broken. They grill the poor man who has just been healed, trying to get him to denounce what Jesus has done. But the formerly blind man is properly grateful and refuses; so “they drove him out” (John 9:34). When he encounters Jesus, the story concludes in this way — and listen carefully to see how complicated this business of seeing Jesus is:

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

So when the Greeks in John 12 ask to see Jesus, they are no doubt unaware of just how difficult this may be. Even if they ‘see’ him, they might not really see him. In fact, thinking that they see Jesus just might be the thing that blinds them to who he truly is and what he came for. They won’t truly come to see who he is until he is glorified through the cross, lifted up for all to see . . . or not to see. All who will gaze on him lifted up will no doubt see the shame and the suffering, instead of the glory of God’s love for this world.

The other three Gospels paint a similar picture, with Jesus quoting the prophet Isaiah talking about God’s people having eyes but not seeing, and ears but hearing. But it Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus climaxes his teaching at Matthew 25 with the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. Where will we see Jesus in the future? In glory? Again, it is only through the suffering of this world. We will see Jesus in the hungry and thirsty, in the naked and shelterless. We will see Jesus when we walk with the poor.

Have you wondered during this Lenten season, “Why do we end the service with the words, ‘Go in peace; remember the poor’”? It’s because of what we have talked about this morning: as long as there are poor and suffering people in this world, that’s where the cross of Jesus puts him — with the suffering. So as we walk a Lenten journey to Good Friday, learning to truly see Jesus on the cross means learning to see Jesus in the poor and suffering of this world.

Walking with the poor has been our Lenten theme across the Greater Milwaukee Synod. Walt Chossek, a neighbor at Our Savior’s two blocks to our west, offered this reflection on this theme, keeping Matthew 25 in the background:

I don’t see any poor people in the community where I live. My education and hard work have allowed me to live where I want with neighbors who have similar life styles and values.

I don’t see any poor people on my way to work. It is really nice to drive along the Lake, enjoy the view and avoid the congested neighborhoods and the freeway.

I work on the eastside of downtown and I don’t see many poor people there. There was a panhandler the other day. Someone called building security and now we don’t see him anymore. It is great to work where I feel secure.

Jesus promised to save me if I turn to him. He has blessed me with many things. I work hard to sing his praises and I will share his story with the people I meet each day of my life . . .

. . . as I stand to the left of my Lord, I have to cry out and ask: “Jesus, you promised me salvation, how did I not serve you?”

Jesus turns to his right and shows me the poor I did not have to see.

[Extemporized conclusion.]

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran,
Milwaukee, WI, April 2, 2006

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