Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34
Hebrews 5: 7 – 9
John 12: 20 – 33
As I sit at the desk in my office, I look up to gaze upon my beautiful print by Thomas Kinkade entitled “Walk of Faith”. The artist has created a magnificent image of a garden with lush trees and greenery offset by his characteristic patches of bright light and shadows with a path winding its way down the center of the garden. When completed, the artist wrote that he himself was so enchanted by the beauty of the scene that he had to place a person on the pathway to give the image fullness of life. He placed the image of Jesus walking on the Way with Peter strolling along side. I find both the image of the garden and the title striking. As a meditation, I often put myself in place of Peter on the walk and imagine a conversation with the Lord in an effort to discover in ever deeper ways who Jesus is for me and for all of us. When we think about it, we might discover differing images or dimensions of who Jesus is for us depending upon what we are experiencing in life and how we are dealing with that experience.
Our Lenten Scriptures today say some Greeks ask “to see Jesus”. Really? Which Jesus do they wish to see? Our readings tell us whom they will meet today. He is the one who fulfills the promise of a renewed relationship with God as foretold by Jeremiah in the first reading. To accomplish this, Jesus is the one who learns obedience from His sufferings. He will be the seed that falls to the ground and dies so that we might live, so that we might be freed from slavery to sin, so that we might walk with Him in the pathways of light rather than in the dark shadows. While John has, throughout the Gospel, revealed Jesus as the Gentle Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life for us, the Giver of Life to the Dead, the Healer of both body and soul, John now reveals Jesus as the Suffering Savior who will die the scandalous death of crucifixion so that we might have new life in Him. Is this the Jesus the Greeks came to see? Will they understand this image of the Suffering Messiah? They will if they have ever experienced suffering in their own lives or if they have witnessed the suffering of others. As believers who have lived from the 20th century into the 21st, we are beset by a collage of images we will never forget, even if we desired to do so. Images of the trench warfare of World War I, the bread lines of the 1930’s and families with unemployed breadwinners, the death camps of Nazi Germany, the scarred survivors of the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki , screaming children running for their lives during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the sight of the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground with thousands of innocents trapped inside, the ugly and horrifying images of journalists, aid workers , and Syrian Christians being slaughtered by terrorists — all of these and more are part of our life circumstances. In addition to seeing and feeling the suffering of this magnitude, we experience our own pain and suffering in the circumstances of life from death of a loved one, to unemployment, to worry and concern for a child or grandchild or parent or a friend, to personal illness, to the ordinary advancement of aging.
Our Scriptures invite us to vividly remember that Jesus was no stranger to suffering and that we, His followers, will need to deal with suffering in our own lives as well. This is the Jesus we meet in today’s Scriptures. Does Jesus desire for us to suffer? I think not. I believe in a Jesus who wishes us to do everything in our power to eliminate or minimize suffering in life. After we do this, we will find, as did Jesus, that there is just some suffering in life we just cannot do anything about. It is at this point that we are invited today to unite ourselves with our Crucified Lord, to make ourselves one with Jesus in His sufferings so that we might receive His Divine strength in our neediest moments and become one with Him in bringing about new life and a renewed, more profound relationship with God for ourselves and for all of God’s People. These are the moments when we look for Jesus, when we most desire and need to see Jesus. Our Scriptures invite us to understand that in these neediest of life’s circumstances; we will see the Suffering Jesus and will recognize the immensity of His love as the foundation of His sacrifice for us.
United with our Crucified Lord through our own unavoidable sufferings in life, we will be fortified and empowered by Him to take the “Walk of Faith” with Him through the garden of life.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province and also serves on the Provincial Council of Holy Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.