25 March. 5th Sunday of Lent
Jer 31:31-34. Jeremiah comforts a shattered people with the assurance that God never forsakes them. The day is coming when he will make a new and deeper covenant with his people.
Heb 5:7-9. Christ endured sorrow and anguish during his passion, but opens for us the door to eternal life.
Jn 12:20-30. Jesus talks of his death – how he both fears and yet desires it, for the hour of his suffering will be the hour of his glory. His followers too must somehow die to themselves.
Keeping by Losing (Patrick Rogers)
Everyone wants to live life to the full, and so did Jesus. Indeed, he is the one who wants us to have life, and have it to the full. Even when Jesus speaks of himself as a grain of wheat that must fall to the earth and die, he is not giving up on life. He speaks in a paradox that holds a great truth. By giving his life, he can make life flourish for others. The expression “keeping one’s life by losing it” can best be explained by referring it to two different kinds of life. The Greek terms psyché and zoé describe life under different aspects. The psyché is our mortal life, the soul that animates our body, but zoé is the prospect of everlasting life with God, the life which God lives and has given to his Son.
Jesus’ mission is to offer this eternal life to every human being. He offered it at first to the necessarily limited audience who heard his teaching and witnessed his example, during his days on earth. But as his Passion approached, and prompted by the desire of some foreigners to meet him and hear his message, he knew that he would have to hand over his mortal life (his psyché) in sacrifice, in order that countless future generations could draw spiritual life (zoé) from him. And so he makes the great declaration in today’s Gospel: “if the grain of wheat dies, it will bring much fruit.”
How do we share this new life? The fourth Gospel talks of little else. According to John, Jesus himself is this life (“I am the resurrection and the life”); his words are spirit and they are life (6:63); this life is nourished by eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist (6:51-58.) Such is the greatness of this God-life within us that we ought to see everything else as secondary to it, even our physical life, if that stark option should ever arise. In giving himself up to death, Jesus affirms the superiority of eternal life over physical life, and gave us the essential teaching that even when we lose our hold of this earthly life, we gain our everlasting dwelling place with God.
The Finest Hour (Kathryn Williams)
If each of us were asked, “Why are you here today?” we would hear a variety of responses. “It’s the Sunday obligation,” “I feel the need to thank God,” “I love being a part of this vibrant worshipping community,” “My week’s not complete without Sunday Eucharist” and the like.
However, at the heart of these responses lies a very simple truth (and we know how words falter when it comes to spiritual stuff). The truth may or may not be deeply felt. It may or may not be clearly expressed. That’s not the essential thing. What’s essential is that we are here. Like the Greeks in today’s Gospel who wanted to see Jesus, we know that by coming to this consecrated place week after week, we have the chance to meet him in lots of ways. It could be called the finest hour of our week.
Throughout the Liturgical year we see Jesus under many different aspects. Some months ago we welcomed Jesus as an infant. Today he is a troubled man, uneasy about his impending death. At each Eucharist we celebrate, we lovingly remember these final moments of his life – what Jesus calls his hour. Our participation in this Eucharist is the privileged place where we spend this hour with him.
Letting Go (John O’Connell)
‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. There is a lot of common sense in that saying, because if you let go of the one in the hand you may catch the two in the bush, but you also risk ending up with nothing. It expresses an attitude to life – don’t take too many risks, don’t be too adventuresome: what you have, you hold. And yet, today’s Gospel says the exact opposite. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single grain. But if it dies, it yields a rich harvest’. In fact, life is one long series of dying in order to live, of letting go in order to live with the new challenge.
It begins at birth. We leave the comfort and security of the mother’s womb to face the big unknown world. No wonder we screamed and protested. The act of birth is inseparable from the pain of letting go. That was our first adventure. Then the child leaves home to go to school for the first time. The young adult has to let go of the security of home to take up a job, get married or go abroad. As we grow older we have to let go of our of our youthful good health and energy, our eagerness to save the world and be willing to take on our new waistline. They say there is no fool like the old fool who tries to act and dress in a way that becomes a young person. To live a full life we have to be willing to let go of old hurts and resentments, lost loves and “what might have been”.
Now there is a human and Christian way of letting go. The Lord teaches us to trust, to take the risk and let go; not to cling to the familiar and the comfortable, because that is the road to stagnation. Parents must let go of their children if they are to become persons in their own right. Love them so much that you are willing to stand aside when they must walk alone. Even when our loved ones die, we must let go, painful though it be, and give the person back to God in a generous surrender. This is not easy. We can be patient with ourselves as God will be patient with us. All these ‘letting go’s act as a dress rehearsal for our own death. If we have taught ourselves to let go with trust in God in the various partings of life, we ought be well prepared for the supreme experience of giving up our lives into the hands of God.
Watch how reluctantly and with such anger the two year old lets go of the fragile vase he has picked up to explore. There we see mirrored our own reluctance to let go of what we clutch in our hands or in our hearts. Parents who are wise avoid the temper tantrums by offering the child a substitute for what they are asking the child to let go of – a sweet, a favourite toy or whatever. God never asks us to let go just for the sake of letting go, but for the possibility of something more, something better. The dangers of life are many. Always being safe is one of them.
For Others’ Sake (Martin Hogan)
Martin Luther King once wrote about a time when he knelt down in prayer at the kitchen table in his home in Alabama. A hail of stones had just come through the window because of his advocacy of civil rights for black people. His wife and children were in danger. He had already become a qualified academic by then, and a promising career lay ahead. In prayer he found himself asking, “Do I really need this additional worry and danger?” It was in that moment that he decided to put the will of God and the welfare of his own Negro people before his own security and that of his family. He chose to let go of an easier path in order to serve God by standing with those who were most oppressed. In a sense, he chose to die so that others might have life. His fate is a striking example of the image that Jesus uses in the gospel reading, the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies, and in dying yields a rich harvest.
Jesus himself was the supreme expression of that paradox. He is the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in dying yields a rich harvest. He refers to that harvest towards the end of today’s gospel reading: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” God worked powerfully through the life of Jesus, and God worked even more powerfully through the death of Jesus. Jesus’ death reveals the power of God’s love, in an even fuller way than his life, and this love, revealed in the death of Jesus, drew people to God, and continues to do so. Many people over the centuries, looking upon the crucifix, have experienced God’s love for them, and have found themselves drawn to God in some way, because of the crucifix. In choosing to accept the loss of so much that was dear to him, in particular, his vibrant life, Jesus drew people to himself and, thereby, to a sharing in God’s life. That moment in his life when Jesus chose such a significant loss out of love for us all is well expressed in this morning’s gospel reading, “What shall I say? Save me from this hour. No, it was for this reason I have come to this hour.”
In these 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. The seed has to shed its husk so that the potential for new life it carries within itself can be realized. The loss of the husk is a necessary loss if the seed is to realize its destiny. This phenomenon of nature can speak to our own experience as much as it did to the experience of Jesus. Jesus recognized that the loss of his life was a necessary loss if he was to remain faithful to his mission, and, thereby, realize his destiny. Each of us in different ways can be called upon to choose some significant loss if we are to remain true to our deepest and best self, true to what God is asking of us. We can find ourselves at a crossroads, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Martin Luther King did in the kitchen of his home. At such crossroads we can either choose some loss for the sake of a greater good, or hold on to some reality that is good in itself but that prevents us from taking the path that God is asking us to take, that others need us to take. There are many such crossroads on the journey of life. Whenever we choose some loss for ourselves so that others might live, we are following in the way of the Lord, and a harvest will come from it.
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
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.
Second Reading: Hebrews 5:7-9
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
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.”