Homily - 5th Sunday of Lent

"The hour has come, for the Son of Man to be Glorified"

Jeremiah 31:31–34
Hebrews 5:7–9
John 12:20–33

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” We have heard about Jesus’ ‘hour’ from the beginning of John’s gospel. When his mother asked for his help at the wedding in Cana, he reminded her that his ‘hour had not yet come.’ Throughout the Jesus’ story in John, there was a similar refrain. Jesus was not speaking of ‘hour’ in clock time; he meant a decisive moment, a moment of in-break of grace in his life. He was referring to a moment, an event, that would be intimately connected with who he was, why he was here and hence who his Father is. It was not so much a moment he could write into his desk calendar because it would be initiated by his Father. We, too, have had our ‘hours’ when we faced a crisis, when a decision had to be made, when we were about to begin something new; perhaps it would be exciting but we did not know how. Perhaps it was a moment we dreaded. But those ‘hours’ reveal who we really are, where our priorities lie, in whom lies our strength.

Today Jesus announces that his hour has come, the hour that he has been living for. We know that hour as the hour of his suffering and death; to use John’s code word, the hour of ‘being lifted up.’ That is what Jesus says is now beginning. What triggers Jesus’ awareness that his hour has come, that the lifting up, the cross, is at hand? It is the request of some Greeks who want to see him. Jesus announces the ‘hour’ in response to the arrival of outside visitors who want to ‘see’ him. In a mysterious way, Jesus presence and life has stretched beyond Judea and Galilee and reached the world of the foreigner. The Gentile world is seeking Jesus. This movement of those from a distance seeking to see Jesus leads Jesus to announce what must be seen by them. And what must be seen by them is his being ‘lifted up.’ They must see his dying; if they see that and believe, then they will be his servants. Then they can be entrusted with the mission of inviting others to enter into Jesus’ life with the Father.

In the same breath that Jesus announces that his hour has come, he offers us the first image of that hour: a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying. And in that dying lies the key to producing much fruit. What Jesus wants the Greeks to see is a grain of wheat thrown on the earth to die and only in dying to bear new life. Just as Jesus announces that this image is a way of understanding his hour, so he is saying to those who come to see him, if you want to have a part with me, then dying must become your life.

Jesus uses a Semitic way of expressing it. Jesus talks of “hating” one’s life in the world to “preserve it for eternal life.” It is a way of saying that if you remain loyal to this world’s way of thinking and seeing (remember the Greeks wanted to ‘see’) then you are really choosing an alternative that will bear no fruit; it is a choice of death. But if you chose the dying model, like the grain, then life without end will come. The task for those who take seeing Jesus seriously will mean death in some form or other. Ours is not a culture that wants to look at death, not just physical death but all its other forms as well. But if you have invested your life in Jesus, then there is no other way. Dying covers all aspects of life in this world. There will be a death to self-preoccupation, death to our independence, death to wanting to see things my way and my way only, yes, and death to my so-called autonomy, doing it alone, death to my prejudices. In prophetic language, there has to be a death to my stubbornness and hard heart. That is what Jesus means by hating my life. Where is my loyalty? To myself or to others, to neighbor, to Jesus and the Father? To think that I can find life only in myself is an allusion; in sight terms, it is blindness; it is refusal to see. Those who follow Jesus are choosing to die in the everyday decisions we make to choose him, in being servants to him, to others and to the Father in heaven.

Falling into the ground and dying is not easy. Jesus goes on to acknowledge that his hour troubles him, causes him anxiety. He struggles with it. We hear him ask himself, “What should I say, Father, save me from this hour?” Jesus struggled with dying, with letting go of our human life. He wrestled with the thought of entering this dark world of death, of setting aside a false and illusory self. But he shares with us how he handled it. Very simply, he spoke to his Father about it.

The key to Jesus’ passage through this hour of dying and being lifted on the cross lies in the relationship he has with his Father. Notice that it is to his Father that he brings his question and struggle. The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of ‘loud cries and tears’ in praying to the Father. In the end, he moves to acceptance and says, ‘No, I will not ask to be saved from dying. I came precisely for dying.’ Only in his dying will the Father be truly revealed. Only in Jesus’ being lifted up will the Father and Son be one in loving the world into a new life. Only when Jesus dispossesses himself of any thought of being someone other than his Father’s son, does his dying bear fruit. Only when he lives for his Father and for the world, will his dying be new life for him and for us. The Father loves the world when his only Son loves the Father through dying.

Jesus says what will happen when he is lifted up, when he dies on the cross, when he loves us to the end, till ‘it is finished.’ He will be drawing everyone to himself. Others will see how God works in the faithful obedience of the Son; everyone will see in the Son lifted up, the place where God and the world come together. The Son of Man lifted up will become the center of the human world, the unifying point of humanity.

We who understand ourselves as servants of Jesus, of what are we servants? We are servants of his dying. We are servants of a transformation process that allows us to shed, like the grain in the ground, the hardness of our hearts, so that God can write his covenant of peace on our human hearts and so bind us to himself forever. On the cross, Jesus became that new covenant that Jeremiah sees today. On the cross, the Father glorifies Jesus as his Son, on the cross the Father recognizes his Son. And from the cross, embracing and carrying all our inhumanity, Jesus brings his obedience and love to the Father as his faithful Son.

We are servants of that mystery each time a little more of ourselves dies and falls away; we are servants of Jesus when like him we remain bound to the same Father that glorified his Son. When we remain faithful to that kind of dying, then we too will bear much fruit.

-Prior, Fr. Joel Macul, OSB