By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
The entire 11th chapter of John’s account of the gospel is on the death and raising of Lazarus back to life; it also talks about the plot to kill Jesus as a result of this. This happened only about a week before the Passover Feast, so Jerusalem was teeming with people from all corners of the Ancient Near East, Jews and Gentiles alike. From 12:12-19 of the same John’s gospel account, we read of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and of the very many people who followed him, comprising mostly of those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus from the dead or who had heard about the event. The Pharisees felt helpless about all these that they remarked to themselves, “there is nothing you can do about it; the whole world is running after him” (John 12:19).
The gospel text of today’s Mass picks up from vs. 20, and it tells us of some Greeks who had also come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, coming to seek audience with Jesus. What they discussed with Jesus – that is, if they did discuss with him – we do not know, for John does not tell us, and he is the only one of the four evangelists who records this event. However, considering all that had recently happened, and taking cognizance of the fact that the Greeks were seekers of wisdom/knowledge (I Cor 1:22 says “Jews ask for signs and Greeks seek wisdom”), we may infer that they had come to question Jesus about himself and all they had seen or heard of him in the past few days. This, therefore, was most likely, not a faith encounter; it is very probable that they did not come into the presence of Jesus because they had found a new faith, but because they wanted to satisfy their curiosities. And this raises a question for us to ponder on today: Why are you here in the presence of God? Why are you seeking God?
For the purpose of this reflection, I like to make five categorizations of why people seek God, why people go to church, and by extension, five categories of Christians.
- Social Christians: These are people who come to church, who present themselves before God, not truly because they seek God, but because they have come to fraternize and to socialize. They are in church because others are in church; they are in church because they will get to meet that friend or that business prospect in church. What happens during Mass or church service as the case may be, is of little interest to them; many of them pay little or no attention during the homily but distract themselves and others by talking or punching on their phones. After Mass, they take the most pictures and selfies with other people.
- Occasional Christians: This group appears before God in church only when there is an occasion in church like a birthday thanksgiving, a wedding, child dedication, harvest and bazaar, and even funerals. Some only come to church twice a year – on Ash Wednesday and New Year Eve.
- Convenience Christians: These ones come to church only when it is convenient for them; they do good only when it is convenient for them; they do charity only when it is convenient; they also pray only when they find it convenient to do so. The day it rains or the heat of the sun is much, you won’t see them in church; on special occasions like when the bishop is coming to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Mass may take longer than usual, you won’t see them; if there’s anything that will give them the slightest discomfort, they tell God to wait till when it is more convenient. They are fair weather Christians.
- Crisis Christians: We have very many of these ones everywhere and in every church. They are the ones who only remember God when there is a crisis in their life. They see God only as a problem solver; they are the miracle seekers. When they need God’s intervention in their lives and situations, they make the church and chapel an annex of their homes, praying long and with head tilted at an angle 45º. Once they find a solution to their problems, they “divorce” God, only to seek for a “remarriage” when another problem arises.
- True Christians: These ones are true to God at all times, in season and out of season. They seek God and come into his presence because they want a faith encounter with him; they strive to be close to God because they want to grow spiritually; they pray because they desire to converse with God their father; they do what is right and just whether it is convenient or not; just like Jesus, as reported in our second reading, they rely completely on God to save them in moments of crisis. The true Christians seek God for God and nothing else.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that with the first four groups, there is something fundamentally wrong, and it is the simple fact that their relationship with God is on a wrong foundation. We are therefore challenged to reappraise the underlying reason why we seek God, why we go to church, why we enter into God presence. In John 6:26, Jesus chided the Jews for seeking him, not on account of the power of God expressed in the multiplication of bread, but because they ate their fill. Today and always, let the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33 – Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness – be our guiding principle in our relationship with God. So, you that is here in this church today, why are you here?