FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (2021)
Readings:Jeremiah 31:31-31Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15Hebrews 5:7-9John 12:20-33
Our Lenten journey is swiftly coming to a close. We know how it ends liturgically, for, in spite of our natural affections for the celebration of Christmas, it is Easter which is the quintessential Christian feast. Not the rabbits and eggs of course, but the focus on the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus gives us the opportunity to renew our faith, and recognize that which was spoken of last week – that even in the midst of suffering our hearts can be filled with gratitude because of what Christ has done for us in the taking on of human flesh.
The prophet Jeremiah could only encourage his listeners with the promise of a day when God would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah assures them that “it will not be like the covenant” made with Israel’s ancestors, for the people broke that covenant, which led to their many sufferings and hardships. No, the new covenant will not be on stone tablets, but it will be “within them,” written “upon their hearts.” All of this will be due to the overwhelming forgiveness of our loving God, who counts not our infidelities and iniquities against us.
The responsorial psalm (what we call the Miserere) is the perfect response to Jeremiah, for it pleads with God to create “clean hearts” within us: “thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.” Once again the Scriptures show us, as we are reminded at the beginning of each Mass we celebrate, that we are sinful creatures in need of God’s forgiveness. It is only with that knowledge that the appropriate amount of gratitude can be instilled in each of us, a gratitude that marks the genuine Christian.
The gospel of John passage for Sunday is towards the end of John’s gospel. One can almost sense the tension in Jesus’ proclamation that “the hour has come for the Son of Man (messianic term) to be glorified.” Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem happens immediately before this gospel, the Last Supper happens immediately after, with its unique, among the gospels, washing of the disciples feet. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem, and this will be His last earthly visit to the important city. Our passage in this gospel is Jesus’ Gethsemane moment, sharing with His disciples that He is “troubled now,” and questioning whether He should ask His Father “to save Him from this hour?” All we need to know about Jesus and His mission is contained in but a few verses: “unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and who ever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.” Jesus will elaborate on these themes in the Passion discourses that precede His death and resurrection, but nowhere do such few sentences encapsulate all we need to know about Jesus. As the gospel began, Jesus knows His hour has come, and this is how Jesus brings glory to God’s name, through obedience to God’s will. So important is this gospel, that once again the heaven’s open and God speaks: “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”
The author John wishes to make clear that the only path to glory is through the suffering of the cross. When Jesus is lifted up on that cross, He will draw everyone to Himself. Making sure there is no doubt about anything John has written, he points out that “Jesus said this indicating the kind of death He would die.”
This entire Lenten season is not meant to tell us something we don’t know; it is meant to remind us of why we are grateful for Jesus, and to keep ever present before our eyes the necessity of suffering and death if we are to one day enjoy the fruits of salvation. As was stated last week, there can be moments – times of sickness, times of war and persecution, times fleeing one’s country, times of suffering at the hands of others – when the suffering seems to overwhelm us, and when it is difficult to remember what Jesus taught us. As we enter more deeply into the Passion and Death of Jesus in the next two weeks, let us never forget that we are headed in the same direction as Jesus – to the glories of the resurrection.