Saint Vincent Archabbey
Fifth Sunday of Lent, Classic
John 12: 20–33
Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover feast say to Philip, "Sir, we would like to see Jesus." Jesus responds, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." He then says that in order to produce much fruit, a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die; and only the person who "hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life." Those who follow him, Jesus promises, will be where he is, and the Father will honor them.
Jesus, realizing that his "hour" will involve suffering and death, is troubled; yet, he entrusts his life to the Father. Through giving himself to his Father's will, the world will be judged, and the ruler of this world will be driven out. Jesus then reveals the purpose of the "hour" he is about to enter: "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."
The incident of the Greeks asking to see Jesus marks a turning point in the fourth gospel. Before, as at the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus had always said that his "hour" had not yet come. Now through the symbolic presence of the Greeks, Jesus will be able to draw everyone to himself—Gentiles as well as Jews, people today as well as people of the first century. We, too, would like to see Jesus.
One of the most elusive concepts in the entire bible is "glory." John uses the term to refer to the divine presence manifesting itself in the world, and also to the recognition of that supreme presence by a faithful person. In the hour that has come upon him, how will the Father's presence manifest itself to Jesus, and how will he honor that divine presence? It is clear from many incidents in the fourth gospel that Jesus loved and enjoyed his human life. He took part in a wedding feast at Cana. At the death of his friend Lazarus, Jesus was moved with the deepest emotions (anger or indignation as well as sorrow). He wept, so much did he love his friend. Now that his "hour" has come, Jesus is troubled at the prospect of losing his life. The Letter to the Hebrews states: "In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death…." (Hebrews 5: 7).
Because human life is so precious, perhaps the deepest human instinct is for its survival. We seek power and possessions to secure it. We seek pleasures to enjoy it. We seek honors to assure ourselves of its worth. Jesus, too, faced the temptation to make the preservation of his own life his supreme value. In prayer, however, he recognized the presence of the Father's eternal life dwelling in him, and he committed himself to his Father's will even if it meant he would die. In this the Father glorifies his name by showing us in Jesus that divine life and love overcome death, not only in his beloved Son but in every human being who follows Jesus.
When Jesus dies on the cross, it appears to be the "hour" when the "ruler of this world" has triumphed once and for all. However, the reality is that Jesus is lifted up not to end his life on the cross, but is lifted up to eternal life in the Father. The good news that John's gospel proclaims is that now Jesus draws everyone to himself. The Greeks and all who now "see" Jesus and follow him in faith will be where he is, with God.
The crucial "hour" when one must choose either to love one's life in this world above everything else, or to love one's life in God, of course, will come in the particular circumstances of one's own world. There are immediate implications of that decision. To define one's ultimate meaning in relation to any reality but God is to live in a state of anxiety because that finite reality, however precious, may pass away at any moment.
On the other hand, to define one's meaning in relation to life in God brings peace beyond understanding. Even though, like Christ, we may experience the deepest emotions at the death of a loved one, or be troubled at the prospect of our own death, the final word is peace. "I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (John 16: 33).
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.
5th Sunday of Lent,
Today I focus on the readings for the "B" cycle of the Lectionary; these passages will be read at most masses throughout our country rather than the optional texts for masses with catechumens. Before getting to the scriptures however, we note that the period of Passiontide begins today; this is a more immediate time of preparation for Palm Sunday and the remembrance of the Lord's passion during Holy Week. In order to move us into such a spirit of penitential reflection the covering of statues is allowed beginning today, representing a sort of "fasting" for the eyes. Later, this penitential sign of longing for renewal is deepened by the removal of holy water from churches on the days of the Sacred Triduum.
Turning to the readings, we first behold a beautiful promise made by the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah: "I will place my law within them and write it on their hearts." This promise of a new relationship with God is perceived however as something which lies on the far side of a period of suffering, as witnessed first by Jeremiah: "this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord" (Jer 31:33), and as was made clear in the second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb 5:8).
Christ's own acceptance of his approaching passion is clear, though colored understandably by human anxiety: "I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour'? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name." His angst over his own suffering is a powerful reminder to us when we are in distress that he has been there before us and knows our pain. We are able to find meaning in suffering, painful as it is, precisely because Jesus preceded us on this hard path, and our suffering is a share in his.
Our participation in his Passion is plainly forecast in the verse that is sung as the acclamation before the gospel reading: "Whoever serves me must follow me, says the Lord; and where I am, there also will my servant be" (John 12:26). Lent and this period of Passiontide are indeed important annual reminders that we all experience a share in Christ's passion in life, though in different circumstances and to differing extents.
The story of course does not end there: Jesus first announces to his followers that the consummate moment of his ministry has arrived: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." He then instructs his disciples that they too must bear their crosses if they are to be faithful to him: "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." Finally he forecasts what will be accomplished through his own passion, giving meaning to ours: "now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."
As we enter the days of Passiontide, let us unite ourselves with Christ in his hours of darkness that we might find hope and light through him in our times of suffering. Doing so, we will be true to our Lord's words "Whoever serves me must follow me" and we can rejoice in his promise "The Father will honor whoever serves me" (John 12:23ff).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.