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Waiting in Faith

In two of today's readings you will find a theme of loneliness. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the lonely suffering of Jesus, as he confronted his fears and turned them into prayer, 'aloud and in silent tears' (Heb. 5.7). In the gospel (John 12.20-33) Jesus himself speaks of the grain of wheat which seemingly dies and falls alone to the ground, yet becoming in the process the source of a whole new cycle of life.

Jesus weeping silently is not the usual picture we have of him, but it is a haunting and powerful image. It brings home to us that Jesus, too, like the rest of us, had to live by faith. He had to leave the familiar world of Galilee and bring his message to the sceptical metropolis. He had to work with the disciples, and wonder whether they would be strong enough to carry his message forward. He had to preach and teach in the open air, with spies and agents provocateurs all around, treading a narrow line between challenging the system and working with it. Not easy. When Jesus rose early in the morning and went to quiet, out of the way places to pray, there must have been times when he felt very alone.

The image of the grain of wheat has a romantic appeal and in a recent popular hymn is sung rather romantically. The truth is, of course, rather different. Like the seed there are times when we have to wait in darkness, and perhaps also in perplexity, until the new life that God promises is made possible. This waiting in faith requires a certain robustness. This comes through in another part of today's gospel reading. Greek-speaking Jews (perhaps from Alexandria) ask to see him. Jesus realises that his message and his fame must be spreading far and wide. And if this is the case, then the authorities will notice also. So Jesus feels a jolt of fear: 'My soul is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?' (21.27). Faith means going forward in trust, and with the strength that comes from his communion with God. In the incident described in today's gospel, Jesus receives a message of affirmation. The same awesome voice which spoke at his baptism speaks the Father's message of affirmation again, as Jesus prepares for another baptism, this time a baptism of suffering.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that the suffering of Jesus made him perfect (5.8-9). At first glance this is puzzling, for the eternal Christ has always been perfect, and Jesus was sinless. But we have to understand here that it speaks of Jesus as he walked among us, living by faith. His human nature embraced the same suffering which afflicts so many of his brothers and sisters. It was an act of self-offering, in which he identified himself closely with us poor, struggling human beings. In doing so he fulfilled his mission as the Christ, overcoming death and opening the way to salvation. In this fulfilment of God’s love, through embracing human suffering, divine love was brought to a wonderful fruition.

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