The 5th Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4, 12-15
Second Reading: Letter to the Hebrews 5:7-9
Gospel: According to St. John 12:20-33
Among other things, Lent is a time to ponder our role in the Paschal Sacrifice of Jesus. In this Sunday’s reading from St. John we hear Jesus say, almost as if thinking out loud, “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.” This hour is the one where He brings us salvation because of our sins – not just the sins of those who put Him to death, but our sins as well.
Leaving out the Blessed Mother, all people from the beginning of our race have had a hand in the crucifixion, and all generations yet to be born are already implicated in the crimes of humanity against the loving God in Whose mind they at present exist.
In this weekend’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah points ahead six centuries to the time when God will “make a new covenant…it will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers…I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” That new covenant would be ratified by the blood of Jesus as He suffered and died on the Cross.
Jesus’ own words in John’s Gospel show forth the legacy of His offering of Himself on Calvary: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me.” And here lies the other side of the coin of our role in the Passion and Death of Jesus. We are certainly responsible for His suffering, but, despite or – given the boundless mercy of God – because of the blood on our hands, we are offered a way to help to make things right again.
“Whoever serves Me must follow Me” are among the most loving, yet most challenging, words ever spoken. The only way for us to extract ourselves from the quicksand of our fallen nature is to leave behind the struggle to save ourselves and instead to focus on the Cross. If we want to “produce much fruit” then we must be willing to imitate Him in the act whereby He “falls to the ground and dies.”
It is certainly a good thing to focus on the salvific act of the Cross as one where Jesus re-balances the scales of the universe, where he fulfills His role as the New Adam by reversing the power of sin in the world. But it is also important to never forget that His purpose included giving us a path to follow. This understanding of the Good News was so essential to the Early Church that the first Catholics – even before they called themselves Catholics – called themselves followers of the Way.
For them, and for us, the Way is not so much a path as it is a Person. Elsewhere in John’s Gospel Jesus proclaims Himself to be the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. We are called to bind ourselves to God, especially in His Incarnation as the Eternal Word or Logos, and any commitment that we have to any statement of faith or any code of morals is binding on us only because they have as their source that Incarnate Word, the Savior on the Cross.
Over these last weeks of Lent as we watch the unfolding of those events whereby Jesus personifies the wheat that dies to produce much fruit we are confronted by the fact that we are complicit in that death. Yet, because of the call to follow and to serve Him, we can also – if we dare to take up that Cross – be among those whom He will draw to Himself into Eternal Life.