Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, tells a story of a visitation he made to a parish while he was the bishop of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass. When he stepped up to the pulpit to deliver the homily at Mass, he was struck by a phrase engraved into the area of the pulpit right above where the lectionary would rest so that the lector or homilist could see the phrase but the congregants could not.
It simply read, “Domine, volumus Iesum videre.” In English, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” It is a constant reminder to those who speak from the pulpit that when lectors read and clerics preach, the people of God want to see Jesus, not the reader or the cleric. While it is true that the reader or preacher serves as a mediator and interpreter of God’s Word to his hearers, it is ultimately Jesus whom the people want to see.
In the Gospel account, it is Greek visitors to Jerusalem who make the request to Philip to see Jesus. The name “Philip” was a Greek name and Philip himself probably understood Greek and was able to serve as an interpreter. In reply, Philip seeks out Andrew and together they approach Jesus on behalf of the Greeks. This is not an insignificant moment because this may have been the first time that people from a non-Jewish culture would have sought Jesus, making them among the first from the Hellenic world to encounter Christianity.
For the Jews, the idea of mediation was very familiar. The entire priestly cult exercised at the Temple was predicated upon the mediation of the priest, who would offer sacrifice to God on behalf of the people. Jesus would continue this theme in His own passion, death and resurrection — mediating the redemption of the entire world on our behalf to the Father.
It is important to note that the idea of mediation in regard to worship and salvation is God’s desire. When it comes to our salvation, mediation is not a “man-made” concept. Scripture is replete with stories of God selecting mediators to act on His behalf to save the human family.
The theme of Philip and Andrew’s mediation serves as a valuable lesson for those who reject the notion that other men can and should mediate between God and men. There are those for whom the idea of mediation is uncomfortable. Whether it is the Blessed Virgin Mary’s title “Mediatrix of all Graces” or the mediatory role that priests serve in the sacraments, it is not uncommon to encounter those who claim that they need only go directly to God — they have no need of a third party to mediate on their behalf.
When pressed to celebrate the sacrament of penance, they claim, “I don’t need to tell the priest my sins. I go directly to God.” This rejection of mediation implicitly rejects the mediation Christ rendered for us to the Father at Calvary. In perpetuating the myth that we are rugged individuals, it also discounts the concept that the human person as person was made for communion and cooperation with his fellow man.
Because this posture of collaboration requires humility, it is difficult for many people to accept. And yet, this is precisely how Jesus chose to render our salvation — as mediator. Similarly, mediation is the function that the Church provides for those seeking to see Jesus, especially in the sacraments. May the Church continue to help those seeking Our Lord to see Him as He really is — the One who gathers all men to Himself so that they may be saved.