Jesus must be ‘lifted up’ so we may have eternal life

Father John A. Kiley

There is not a believer anywhere who has not demanded from the depth of his soul, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” The words of the eager Greeks in today’s Gospel echo the sentiments of everyone who seeks a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.

Imagine the Christian who had Jesus Christ to himself for even half-an-hour. Questions about eternity, sin, the church, redemption, personal salvation, and vocation would quickly consume those 30 minutes of fruitful dialogue.

Yes, the faithful would all like to “see Jesus” and garner for themselves the eternal truths Christ came to reveal.

It is all the more curious then that Jesus seems completely to ignore the good faith question of these Greek suppliants. Without addressing the Greeks or even acknowledging them, Jesus initiates a sermon on what later generation would call the Paschal Mystery. “Amen, amen, I say to you, 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 in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

Rather then allow the Greeks simply to enjoy his physical presence, Jesus wisely and cleverly introduces the Greeks to his deepest essence.

To meet Jesus, to encounter Jesus, is not simply to chat with the Master about eternal verities, no matter how insightful or rewarding. Truly to meet Jesus is to experience the inner life of Jesus.

Truly to meet Jesus is to allow the life and experience of Jesus to be reproduced through grace in one’s soul. To meet Jesus is to undergo his Paschal Mystery in one’s own life.

The core of Jesus was his dying on the cross in obedience to the Father’s will and his being raised up in glory on the third day. This process of dying and rising, of death and resurrection, is the very heart of Christ’s life and message. To share in this dying and rising is truly to meet Jesus.

Jesus truly understands that the Paschal Mystery, his dying and rising, is the fundamental secret that must be appreciated by any who would believe in him. Until Christ’s passion, death and resurrection are completed, he will remain an obscurity to mankind.

But once his transition from death to life is accomplished, the whole Gospel message will begin to make sense. People will then begin to perceive the real Jesus.

“And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Once believers come to realize the importance of the Paschal events in the life of Christ, then they will truly see him, truly understand him, truly recognize him, truly be drawn to him.

This reference to Jesus’ being lifted up, made for the benefit of the inquisitive Greeks, is happily reminiscent of the words Christ made much earlier in his public life to the secretive Nicodemus, a distinguished member of the Jewish hierarchy, who also wanted to “see Jesus.” He called upon Jesus “at night,” as St. John carefully notes to his readers. The encounter with this distinguished Jewish leader was all very cloak and dagger. Nicodemus’ curiosity was greater than his courage.

Nonetheless, the nocturnal dialogue with this religious leader led eventually to the same announcement from the lips of Christ, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Again Jesus insists that if someone wants to know him, if someone wants to comprehend his inner- depths, that person, be he a Jew or a Greek, will have to mediate on Jesus’ being raised up on the Cross and then raised up from the dead.

The message to Jew and Gentile and to every believer down through the ages is the same.

To see Jesus, to know Jesus, is to experience in the depth of one’s soul the Paschal Mystery, the dying to sin and the raising to grace.

The Christian community is about to experience through Scripture, through liturgy, through public devotions and through private prayer, the solemn re-enactment of Holy Week. The betrayal of Christ, the suffering of Christ, the tragic death of Christ and the glorious resurrection of Christ will be universally celebrated by believers everywhere.

Every Christian will have the opportunity to renew the Paschal Mystery in the depth of his own soul.

Every Christian, just like the Greeks and the Jew Nicodemus, will have a chance truly “to see” Jesus.