FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (B) MARCH 18, 2018
Jeremiah 31: 31-34 Psalm 51 Hebrews 5: 7-9 John 12: 20-33
by Jude Siciliano, OP
The visit by the Greeks, who ask Philip, "we would like to see Jesus," is the occasion for Jesus’ discourse about his death. It is also an opportunity for Jesus’ followers to be taught about being willing to be like Jesus – a grain of wheat dying, so as to bear "much fruit." At first the Greek’s request and Jesus’ response seem disconnected; but they are not. In response to the request of the Greeks, Jesus moves our attention to his suffering, death and resurrection, which we will soon be celebrating during our Triduum. He will face his death with a determination to see it through and not flee. Contrary to our experience of death as a final destruction, Jesus sees it as a moment of God’s glorification. Those who see his death and continue to look with eyes of faith upon him, will also see God’s hand rescuing Jesus from death.
Remember that the desire to see Jesus is expressed by Greeks. Jesus’ response about self-sacrifice and dying to oneself repeats what he frequently says in the Synoptic gospels. Here he has focused his words to the inquiry by the Greeks, for in Greek philosophy there is little or no reference to dying to self, or the sacrifice of one’s own life for another. So, Jesus’ example of the grain of wheat bearing "much fruit" through dying, is a fitting image at this moment. His followers will leave behind the worldly and "logical" thinkers of the world and trust in his words – as contradictory as they may seem to the disciples.
Parents, educators and mentors in the congregation know what it means to die to self interests; to give up one’s personal plans and goals for the sake of others. We are also aware of past and present generations of immigrants who toiled long and hard, giving their lives, so that their children could have a better one. They died to self; each like a grain of wheat that "falls to the ground and dies,...and produces much fruit." Good parents, for example, will make such sacrifices for their own blood. It’s natural. What isn’t "natural" is that Jesus invites his followers to give their lives for those not of their own blood. We are to give of ourselves even for strangers, expecting no return, no payment-in-kind. It will seem to worldly thinking a waste of time; a pouring out of our life energies for little in return.
Through Jeremiah (our first reading), God promised to make a new covenant with God’s people, a covenant "written upon their hearts." Jesus is that new covenant and in him, God has united God’s very self with us with bonds that can never be broken. Jesus looks death in the eye and sees victory; for through his death the new covenant is established and we are raised from sin. We are assured of forgiveness of our sins this Lent because we look upon Jesus, the one "lifted up from the earth." He raises us up with him to a new, a forgiven life, "I will draw everyone to myself." He takes us to God. Jesus says that his way, through death, is the way to eternal life for his followers. Using Semitic hyperbole he states we must "hate" our life in this world and "preserve it for eternal life." If we live the servant-life Jesus did, then it will mean death in one way or another for us: death to self-preoccupation; death to our independence and detachment; death to doing things our way, etc. Jesus’ followers die everyday in the decisions we make to choose him and service to God through neighbor, above our own self interests and aggrandizement.
By Jesus’ suffering on the cross, he showed us how to be faithful to God. To the very end of his life he also showed us God’s love for us. Jesus did not want suffering for its own sake; otherwise he would not have cured and fed so many people. But there is a suffering we can’t avoid if we are to follow him. In fact, he invites us to that suffering today, for following Jesus’ path will cause suffering and pain. In a world of sin and violence, God wants people who will choose otherwise. Indeed, we are to counter evil, not by force and adopting evil’s own battle tools, but by daily attempts to live lives of service in Jesus’ name. Jesus ponders aloud, as he did in Gethsemani, whether or not to go through with this sacrifice of his life. "Yet what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’"? He quickly dismisses this thought and says, "Father, glorify your name." We will see the greatness of God in the self-sacrifice Jesus is about to make. And more. As a result of this sacrifice, we too will be able to follow Jesus in giving ourselves for others.
The voice from heaven is not directed at Jesus, but to those standing nearby and to us who hear it now. In the Hebrew scriptures, thunder represented the voice of God, or the voice of an angel. The voice affirms for us that Jesus’ way has God’s stamp of approval. We can put trust in what Jesus has just said: through dying comes life. Many will be attracted to Jesus’ reigning from the cross; many will be repulsed by it. The commercial says, "Be all that you can be." That’s what Jesus is inviting us to do – he just has a very different path for us to follow and become "all that we can be."
These Greeks were sincere searchers. While they were not fully part of the Jewish community, they were in Jerusalem to worship with the Jews at Passover. In John’s packed vocabulary, "to see" implies more than physical sight; it suggests a sight that comes from believing. The presence of Andrew with Philip hearkens to the beginning of the gospel when Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptist, went to Jesus. He invited them to "come and see." We have been with these disciples on their journey with Jesus, listening with them to Jesus’ words and observing his great works. We, like those disciples, have come to "see" who Jesus is (Cf. 1: 35ff).
Throughout John’s gospel we have been told that the "hour had not come yet" (2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20). We know Jesus wasn’t referring to the time of day ("chronos"); but to a special, grace-filled moment in his life ("kairos"), when he would be returning to God through his passion, death and resurrection. That "hour" has now come and Jesus is going to make himself available to the world. The Gentiles ask to "see" Jesus. Do they represent the "others," the people of the world who, along with Andrew and Philip, Mary and Martha, will also come to believe in Jesus? He must make it clear to them and us: to really get the full picture of faith, the whole experience of Jesus must be "seen." Soon we, with them, will see Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.
John has no agony in the garden in his gospel. Nevertheless, Jesus, as in the garden, is agitated or distressed. He knows what is up ahead and he is determined to go through with it. Had he not, we would have heard a different message from the one we hear today. Had he not accepted his dying, the message we would have heard would have been: that the servant of God serves God up to a certain point and at little personal cost; that one could be a follower of Jesus without inconvenience to self or lifestyle; that God only asks a part of our lives in love and service, not all of it. The next two weeks we will see Jesus’ giving everything to God for us. We are invited to follow.
How will the world be "judged" by Jesus’ being "lifted up"? People will either accept what they perceive in the death of this "grain of wheat" and fashion their own lives accordingly, or they will look upon the crucified one as having lived a foolish and wasted life—and reject Jesus and his way. The world powers rule and govern from exalted thrones and military might. Jesus rules from the cross----by the cross and his resurrection, he draws "everyone to myself."
We might pay honor today to people in the Rite of Christian Initiation. Those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil are like the searching Gentiles saying, "We would like to see Jesus." Their sponsors and other mentors in the RCIA are the ones who, by the witness of their lives and their instruction, help the searchers "see" Jesus. And the rest of us? Don’t we "see" Jesus because of those who have shown him to us by their own lives? Haven’t others modeled the self-sacrifice Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel? Hasn’t their self-giving shown us Jesus? Do we "see" him in these scriptural stories we hear each week at these assemblies? Are we helped to see him through the preacher’s message? Do we look below the appearance of bread and wine and see Jesus’ life given for us and nourishing us?
Jesus is not frozen in time, the exclusive property of a community long ago. He has passed through his "hour" and we, along with John’s early community, have access to him; we "see" him through faith here and now. He promises later in the gospel, "Blest are they who have not seen and have believed (20:29). We have the expression, "seeing is believing." But, in the light of today’s gospel, we can say today, "Believing is seeing."
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Although God never stops trying to communicate with us,
this is never in order to impose.
The voice of God is often only in a whisper, in a breath of silence.
Remaining in silence in God’s presence, open to the Holy Spirit, is already prayer.
– Brother Lawrence of Taize
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts
Jeremiah 31: 33
Today’s first reading and responsorial psalm offer plenty of room for reflection. In the passage from Jeremiah written above, God will act to place something that the prophet calls "law" upon the people’s hearts. When we consider that Jesus lives a life of nonviolent love and that Paul teaches, "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10), then we can understand that God’s law is the law of nonviolent love and also a message of how we are to care for others.
The psalmist in Psalm 51:12 voices the supplication "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." It is the cry for the grace of internal renewal on a personal level and a perfect Lenten entreaty. With a clean heart, we are open to receiving God’s love--a nonviolent love that is meant to be shared. Perhaps the Latin chant "Ubi Caritas" can guide our thoughts. It is not easy to translate the full meaning of the Latin "caritas" with just one word. It means "spiritual love" or "love in action," and expresses the love that has a profound respect of the other.
Where charity and love are, there God is. The love of Christ has gathered us into one. Let us exult, and in Him be joyful. Let us fear and let us love the living God. And from a sincere heart let us love each other.
Where charity and love are, there God is. Therefore, whenever we are gathered as one: Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware. Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way. And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, there God is. Together also with the blessed may we see, Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God: A joy which is immense, and also approved: Through infinite ages of ages. Amen.
Starting the week of April 16th, I will be offering again a thought-provoking, weekly, five-session seminar called "A Journey with Gospel Nonviolence." To learn more about nonviolent love, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information regarding this seminar.
What other steps can you take, in charity and with God’s grace, to live the law of love?
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast
came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus."
Jesus and his disciples hadn’t preached to these Greeks. They didn’t proselytize them, they came of their own free will. What was the attraction? They and we are attracted by the One who, in his hour, is a completely faithful servant to God; who shows total generosity, willing to give up everything for us, without holding back anything in reserve;
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
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3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736