Fifth Sunday in Lent | John 12:20-33
Aretha Franklin sang of a chain of fools. John writes of a chain of voices.
This chain begins or ends, since chains run both ways, with unnamed strangers, and ends or begins with God. Strangers from some Greek speaking place approach Philip, perhaps because of his Greek name. They ask for an introduction to Jesus. Philip first goes to his brother Andrew, and together they take the request to Jesus. It sounds like a long path to take to ask a simple question.
The answer is strange, for it appears that Jesus does not even respond to them. Instead, Jesus begins talking about his own impending death, a disconcerting shift in the storyline. Then comes another voice breaking over them. Some say it was thunder, others say that an angel has spoken, but the Gospel claims God spoke directly to Jesus within the hearing of the crowd.
It is interesting that John includes the alternative explanations. It is thunder, some say. An angel, others say, and they are nearer the orthodox answer. Something has happened, some was sound heard by believer and skeptic alike, but the understanding is so very different.
Today, suppose there is a phone call, or perhaps a letter, with good news. Some would call it an answer to prayer. Others, receiving the same timely communication, would see it as luck, or chance, or the result of benevolent human planning. What difference is there between the ordinary and the miraculous except the matter of perception?
What is faith, if not a choice of how to view our world?
Faith cannot be proven. It is not science, though neither is it the opposite of science. Faith does not set aside reason. Science is the method by which we understand how our universe works. Faith is how we listen for the meaning.
So many voices reach us in a day. Some are from the people who surround us, others are from within us. Some can only be heard to be speaking through the filter of faith.
We hear thunder, and the power and range of it restores our sense of perspective. Is that human insight? Is it the voice of God speaking to someone choosing to hear it?
Faith hears the voice of the Other resonate in everything. Physics demonstrates vibration within an atom, and people of faith hear that and something more, something that ties the universe together. Unscientific? Certainly. An act of self-delusion? Perhaps.
B.B.King sang, “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too.” We choose to love, and we choose to believe that certain people love us. Sometimes it is even true, though we cannot control that side of the equation.
We may choose to believe the Gospel message that God is love. One day it may even prove to be true. Meanwhile, what is lost by choosing to love, choosing to hear the voice of God whisper or thunder through the people and life around us? What is lost by choosing to believe that there is such love in the universe?
Biology explains why insects find flowers irresistible. It takes something else to explain why we humans find them beautiful. As winter gives way to spring, consider the flowers of the field, the stars, the laughter of a child. Perhaps such things are only natural. Perhaps, if we choose to listen, we might hear the voice of God.