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Commentary to the Fifth Sunday of Lent - B

Fr James Gilhooley - Fri, Mar 23rd 2012


Socrates was sitting on a park bench. A cop asked him, "Who are you?" He answered, "I wish to God I knew."

Egypt's King Tutankhamen left us his golden furniture and jewels, but he is dead. The Nazarene left us no golden toys, but He lives. The answer to this riddle is locked in this Gospel.

No other Gospel contains the story of the Greek travelers. That is not surprising. John's work was written to present Christ to the Greeks and Gentiles. His Jesus was designed for export. Nor is it surprising to find Greeks in Jerusalem. The Greeks were inveterate wanderers. They had an insatiable desire to see fresh places and taste new ideas. They also had the dollars. They were yesterday's jet set. The Greek tourists were smart. The time to be in Jerusalem was Passover. Then they would get all the action and color they wanted. 

The Greeks may have seen some of the miracles worked by the Christ in Jerusalem. They may have witnessed Him driving the bankers out of the Temple. Surely they had heard of His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Is it any wonder then that they wanted to pull up chairs with our Christ? They were as inquisitive about Him as we are. Besides, they suspected such an outspoken person would not live long. 

They chose the apostle Philip as their messenger. They liked his Greek name. Their famous line "Sir, we should like to see Jesus!" has been echoed by billions since the Greeks spoke it. 

But Philip broke into a sweat at their request. Did the Master want to chat with these foreigners? They had no appointment.

Timidly Philip threw the ball into Andrew's court. He set up the rendezvous immediately. He had learned long before that the Teacher had time for everybody. You need no appointment. He has no voice mail, no cell phone, no peeper. He takes all calls immediately. He is on the job 7/24/365. He's just a prayer away. 

Besides Jesus was delighted at the arrival of the Greeks. The Wise Men from the East at His birth carried news of Him to the countries east of Palestine. The Wise Men from the West would carry His message into the western world.

Jesus shares a Greek salad (What else?) and white wine with His Greek guests at a vine covered outdoor cafe. Jerusalem is enjoying beautiful weather. There has been speculation for centuries that Jesus Himself spoke some Greek along with His native Aramaic. He proves as sophisticated as the Greeks. Originally they thought of Him as a Socrates. They found Him much more. Unlike Socrates, He knows exactly who He is. 

He blows their sharp minds with His surreal message. Only death brings life. To illustrate His point He uses the grain symbolism. Unless grains of wheat are buried, they will not produce wheat fields. Our Lord was teaching the Greeks and us that only by spending one's life do we retain it. We will exist long into the 21st century if we take things easily, avoid strain, and protect our lives as would a hypochondriac. We will exist longer, but unhappily we will not live. We will prove the point made by a priest that not all the dead are buried.

History is filled with people who have learned the lesson  Jesus was teaching the Greeks that day at brunch. GB Shaw's Joan of Arc is one. She knew her enemies were closing in. So she shouts to God, "I shall last only a year. Use me as you can." 

Christians who lost their lives helping Holocaust Jews are remembered today in Israel in the garden known as the Avenue of the Just. They surrendered their own lives to save others. 

Incidentally, the Teacher underlines His teaching that from death springs life more than once. You will find Him doing it two times in Matthew, twice in Luke, and once in Mark. He had no intention of pigeonholing this teaching.

The Master picked up the check at the bistro. As He was leaving the Greeks, He threw them a fluttering knuckle ball that must have caused indigestion. "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself." It was on the magnet of a wooden cross Jesus placed His hopes. History proved Him  right.

The empires founded on force have gone leaving bad memories - Genghis Khan, Alexander, Napoleon, Hitler, and Saddam. But, as Christ the swordless on an ass." The Christian life, the sage says, is like parachuting. We must do it right the first time.

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