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, maybe because he has a 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 seems a long path to ask a simple question.
The answer is strange. Jesus begins talking about his own impending death, a disconcerting shift in the storyline. Then another voice breaks over them. Some say it was thunder, others say that an angel spoke, but the Gospel claims God spoke directly to Jesus within the hearing of the crowd.
It’s interesting that John includes the alternative explanations. Thunder, some say. An angel, others say, and they are nearer the orthodox answer. Something happened, some 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 or email, 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’s the difference between an ordinary chain of events and a miracle except the matter of perception?
What is faith, if not a choice of how to view our world?
Faith can’t be proven. It isn’t science, but neither is it the opposite of science. Faith does not set aside reason. Science is the method by which we learn how our universe works. Faith is how we listen for the meaning.
So many voices reach us in a day. Some words are from the people who surround us, others are from the crowd inside us. Some voices can only be heard with the ears of faith.
We hear thunder, and the power and range of it restores our sense of perspective. Is that human insight? Recognition of natural cause and effect? Certainly. Is it the voice of God speaking to someone choosing to hear it? Maybe.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the people to consider the flowers of the fields. There is something of God to be seen in them, he says, something of God to be heard in the wind that blows across them.
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 the other 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.