5th Sunday of Lent: 21 March 2021
|(Cross judges evil - Photo courtesy Jean Mark Arakelian)|
The scriptural readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent are not only difficult but also challenging. The conversation that happens between Jesus and the Greeks speaks about Jesus' imminent passion, death and resurrection. Greeks are known for their knowledge and wisdom. They approach Jesus through Philip who must have known Greek as his name suggests. Interestingly, Jesus places before them a few very powerful statements which surely draw our attention as well. "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" (Jn 12:24); "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12:25); "Whoever serves me must follow me;" "where I am, there also will my servant be;" "The Father will honor whoever serves me" (Jn 12:26); "Now is the time of judgment on this world" (Jn12:31); "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn 12:32). Drawing up from the above words of Jesus we might gather very significant reflections.
1. Life is like a grain of wheat
Our life here on earth is temporal, fragile, vulnerable, finite, limited, unfinished, short and uncertain. Prophet Job would say "man’s days are numbered" (Job 14:5-7). He further says, "naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return" (Job 1:21). And the Psalmist would pray "So teach us to number our days," (Psalm 90:12) in other words, help us to remember that our days are numbered, and help us to interpret our lives correctly. Perhaps death is the ultimate test of who we are, the moment of our personal judgement, just because we have nowhere to hide, no masks that will hold, and no one to stand in our stead. For the Gospel writer John, the cross is the key to glory. Death is the threshold of life.
The reality of life is so stupid, Jesus places before us rich imagery of harvest. Just like the seed that falls to the ground, dies and brings forth new life so too we must. A very difficult task to understand this element of life, moreover becoming reality by itself. Therefore, Jesus challenges us to make our life fruitful and bountiful by following him closely and wholeheartedly whatever it may cost us. Jesus also assures that such a life has a future, a future in God and in His salvation. He gives the example of his own choice to take the cup that is offered to him. And so we must continue in our commitment to assist all those who seek our help. People might go through all sorts of ups and downs, difficulties and setbacks, dark times and meaningless anxieties. We are made for loving communion, with God and with one another in Christ. In Him, we will discover ourselves no longer alone, but simply and fully alive.
2. God judges the evil in the world
The very presence of good itself is the judgement of the world. In spite of the messiness of life, there are people who long for a just world, who strive to make this world beautiful, lovable and livable. Jesus' words "now is the time of judgment on this world" (Jn 12:31) is not something a vague statement. Lenten time is a special period to look at the world and our lives with the eyes of God. A life without self-examination is not worth living. From time to time, God has sent men and women to show the path of righteousness. God has not allowed evil to prosper endlessly. Nazism, fascism, Stalinism, fanatism, etc. have seen their deaths. Probably it must have taken time. Perhaps, evil has not been curtailed within a stipulated time according to our calculations. In God, everything has a time. The more I prioritize the personal needs and desires of myself, as I struggle to cheat death, the more I find myself alone. Selfishness is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Jesus promises to draw to Himself not only Israelites the chosen one but all men and women. The approach of God is inclusivity to the fullest. We are not created for loneliness. In the “hour” of Jesus, sinners in every nation can return to the Father—to be washed of their guilt and given new hearts to love and serve Him. To follow Jesus means hating our lives of sin and selfishness. It means trusting in the Father’s will, the law He has written in our hearts. Jesus’ “hour” continues in the Eucharist, in the sacraments, in a lifestyle of holiness and peace. As St Paul says, ‘If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s’ (Rom 14:8).
3. God is the ultimate answer to our questions
God speaks to Israelites through the mouth of Prophet Jeremiah: "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jer 31:33). God knows how best to treat us his creatures. The lessons for today reveal a tension in our human relationship to God, and certainly to Jesus. We are sometimes so sure we know who God is and what God does. In other words, we are so sure about ourselves, our wants and our desires. We put a lot of faith in the certainty of our knowledge and know-how things of this world. But all too often we let the limits of our human knowledge limit the power of God and the work of Jesus in our lives.
During this time of endless anxiety due to the pandemic, God has made known to us that he is the master of us all. No one can use the other human being as merely as a means. The time and situation have made us to open ourselves in ways we had not heard before - to not be so sure we have all the answers. Jesus gives us a call to listen to God once again afresh and anew. So that we may renew ourselves. God's voice comes to us not from the powerful or those who are in authority including ecclesiastical hierarchy, but from those who are marginalized, those who have no voice, those who are subjugated to utter helplessness. God writes his wishes in our hearts, not by those who are in authority and boss over the power structures. The scripture says again and again that God hears the cries of the poor (Psalm 34).
The shrinking and feeble voices of those helpless and hopeless are those voices we need to hear. Because in them we can see the voice of God clearly and contagiously. It's a different point of view, a different perspective altogether. To listen to those voices we have to pray to God with the Psalmist "create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). Only a person with a discerning spirit can experience the standards of the Gospel and values of the Kingdom of God. When we give people a safe place to discern Christ's active word in one's life and in the lives of others from new perspectives, we may say that Christ "became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb 5:9). On this day we should look for such a possibility of entering more fully into the companionship with Christ in ways not only enriches our own faith but ways that make a difference in the lives of others.
Questions for our Reflections:
- Where did I see the presence of God this week?
- I have met saints and gospel characters this week. Can I recall how one particular character influenced my prayer?
- Where did I push against God’s voice? Why was that?
- At the end of this week, what have I learnt? What wisdom have I taken to heart? And what do I desire from God in the week to come?
Jesus, friend and brother in times of need, may we dedicate our lives to you and work for a better world, free from violence and hunger, where all your people may flourish and bear fruit. Lord, we pray that you renew our faith as your close disciples. We pray that you teach us to listen to your word and follow your precepts rightly and justly. Thus we might learn something concretely for ourselves and others, and how much You loves us all. We make this prayer, in Jesus our Lord. Amen
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
20 March 2021