Fifth Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
The new covenant, written on the human heart
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt ” a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Responsorial: from Psalm 51
R./: Create a clean heart in me, O God
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and cleanse me of my sin . (R./)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me out from your presence,
and do not take from me your Holy Spirit. (R./)
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you. (R./)
Second Reading: Hebrews 5:7-10
The anguish of Jesus, faced with his passion
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel: John 12:20-30
By losing their life, the followers of Jesus will find it in a new way
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say ” ‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this our. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”
For Others’ Sake
Martin Luther King once wrote about a time when he knelt in prayer in the kitchen of his home in Alabama. Stones had been thrown through the window because of his call for civil rights for black people. His wife and children were in danger. He was already a respected academic and a promising career lay ahead. In prayer he found himself asking if it was right to put himself and them in danger? It was in that moment he decided to put the will of God and the welfare of his people before his own security and that of his family. He chose to serve God by working for those who were most oppressed. In a sense, he chose to die so that others could more fully live. It was a striking echo of what Jesus says in the gospel reading, that the grain of wheat must falls into the ground to yield a rich harvest.
Jesus himself was the supreme expression of this principle. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in dying yields a harvest of life. He describes that harvest in prophetic words: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
If God worked powerfully through the life of Jesus, He worked even more powerfully through the death of Jesus, a death that reveals the power of God’s love, even more fully than his life of healing and ministry, for the amazing love revealed in his death on the cross drew people to God, and continues to do so. Over the centuries, millions of people, by looking upon the crucifix, have experienced God’s personal love and compassion and found themselves drawn to God in return. In accepting the loss of so much that was dear to him, in particular, his vibrant life and warm companionship with others, Jesus drew people of all nations to himself and, thereby, to sharing in God’s life.
It was when some Greeks (i.e. foreigners) came to hear him speak that Jesus made this declaration; and then he asked: “What shall I say? Save me from this hour. No, it was for this reason I have come to this hour.” In these lovely spring days we may find ourselves sowing some seeds in the garden. The seed that dies in order to yield a new form of life is as familiar to us today as it was in the day of Jesus. This phenomenon of nature can speak to our own experience as much as it did to the experience of Jesus. Each of us in different ways has to accept some significant loss if we are to remain true to our deepest and best self, true to what God is asking of us.
Then there are other losses in life that we do not choose, but that are forced upon us. These are losses we have no choice but to accept. We may have to accept the loss of people we love and care about because of choices they make themselves. Parents may not wish to see a son or daughter go far away to live and work, but they accept this necessary loss out of respect for the one they love. In accepting the losses that life imposes, in letting go of those we love, we often find something fuller and richer, just as Jesus’ disciples received him again in a new and fuller way through his resurrection from the dead and the sending of the Spirit.
At the end, for each of us, there is the final, unavoidable struggle to let go of our very life, with all the loss that is entailed in that. As we face of all these inevitable losses that are integral to life, we are strengthened by the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” We trust and believe that, at the end of the day, after we have struggled through all our losses, the Lord will draw us to himself, and, when that happens, we will lack nothing.
Into the Valley of Death
One focus during Lent is to to reflect on our own death and to see our way through it. We all must die, as much as we don’t like the fact. We try to hide it, dodge it, deny it. Yet we can’t in fact escape it. Jesus came into the world, not so much to do away with death (not immediately) but to teach us how to die by his example and then to assure us that death does not say the last word about life. When we walk into the valley of death we do not walk alone. Jesus is with us because he’s been there before and knows what it is like. Moreover he promises us that just as he rose from the dead so will we. We will all be young again. We will all laugh again.
Once upon a time there was a young grandmother who totally adored her oldest grandson (like most grandmothers do). He was a good young man too. Handsome, friendly, courteous, more mature than you could reasonably expect any teenager to be. He was also an excellent athlete and was to be valedictorian of his class. Then, just a week before graduation, another teen (quite drunk) plowed into the car in which the young man was returning from a baseball game. He died three hours later in the hospital. Everyone in the family was, devastated, as you can well imagine. The grandmother was furious. “Why do such terrible things happen?” she demanded. “Why did it have to happen to my grandson? What kind of God would permit this to happen to me? He must be a cruel and vicious God. Why should I believe in him? I don’t believe in him. My grandson was so young, he had the rest of his life ahead of him. It’s all right for old people to die, but not for someone who had a right to a long and happy life. I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t believe in anything.”
She carried on like this for months, making the tragedy even harder for her family. She stopped going to Church and refused to talk to the priest who dropped by her house to talk to her. “I just hate God,” she insisted. Then one night, maybe she was dreaming, maybe she was half away, her grandson, in his baseball uniform, came to visit it her. “Cool it, Grams.” he told her. “I’m happy. Life is much better where I am. You’re not acting like my grams any more. We all have to die sometime, young or old, but here we’re all young and we’re all laughing.” So the grandmother began to let go of her grief and rage.