Commentary on 1 John 5:1-5; Ps 125; John 12:24-26
The Gospel reading from John’s gospel is particularly appropriate for this celebration. Just before today’s reading begins we are told that some ‘Greeks’ had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. They were non-Jews who had probably converted to the Jewish faith. It is clear, too, that in Jerusalem they had heard people talking about Jesus and what he was saying and doing.
So they approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They may have approached him because ‘Philip’ (Filippos, , literally ‘one who loves horses’) was a Greek name. They also probably knew that Philip was with Jesus so they told him, “We would like to see Jesus.” Philip then went to consult with his fellow disciple, Andrew (another Greek name, Andreas, ’) and they both went to Jesus with the request.
It is at this point that our reading begins. Jesus answers their request in what seems a very strange and enigmatic manner. He says three things:
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into 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.
Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
In fact, this is a very clear answer to the ‘Greeks’. They asked to ‘see’ Jesus but just to lay one’s eyes on him was not to see him. To see Jesus fully or properly requires that one have an insight and understanding of the inner mind of Christ. So Jesus cannot be ‘seen’ or understood unless one grasps the purpose and meaning of his death and resurrection. In order for it to be fruitful, a grain of wheat has to fall into the ground and effectively be disintegrated so that it will be transformed into a new plant which in time will reproduce itself many times over.
This is exactly what Jesus will do. He will surrender his life through his suffering and death on the cross only to rise again in new life. But not only that, he will bring new life to countless numbers of people who, inspired by him, will become other ‘Christs’. And that is what we celebrate in the Eucharist when we take the bread, the fruit of wheat grains, and say the words: “This [bread] is my Body which will be handed over for you.” And we then share this Bread as a sign of our total identification with the Vision and the Way of Jesus.
And that is why Jesus says that not only must he die but all who wish to follow his Way will also have to be ready to surrender their lives, will have to be grains of wheat losing themselves to bring more life to others. All who serve Jesus must go his Way, because where Jesus is, his servant is there too.
All of this, of course, applies beautifully to the martyrs we celebrate today. They and all their flock, like the grain of wheat, fell to the ground and died but out of their death life came. Far from being wiped out, the Church only flourished and it continued to flourish during the worst days of the Communist regime and it continues to thrive in easier but still difficult conditions.
And what was the secret of these four priests? It is given in the First Reading, which comes from the First Letter of John. Faith in Jesus Christ shows that we are truly children of God. And we know that we truly love the children of God (and are not all his children?) when we show our love for God by keeping his commandments. And, as the Gospel says, the commandments of God can be summarised in one: “Love one another as I [Jesus] have loved you” and that is how we will be recognised as followers of Jesus.
It was this faith-inspired love which led these priests to devote their lives to their people, to stay with them in times of danger and finally to die side by side with them. This is what we celebrate today. As the Reading says: “The victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” The witness of these four priests is the answer to the question. Let them be an inspiration to us.